If you think management is all about problem-solving, you are unlikely ever to reach your full potential, argues Edward de Bono.
You could say the left-rear wheel of a car is excellent. It is very difficult to find anything to criticise. However, if you thought that you only needed a left-rear wheel on a car, the fault would be with your thinking, not the wheel.
This is a good analogy to demonstrate that our existing methods of thinking are excellent but insufficient, and that business strategy should focus on improving on areas that appear to be perfectly satisfactory.
Too many executives think that management thinking is just about problem-solving and continuity – in other words, their business strategy is trying to keep everything as it is and dealing with problems as and when they arise.
But if business management is only concerned with problem-solving, what happens when something isn't a problem?
Even in the absence of general complacency it is still difficult to focus on things which are completely satisfactory.
Three situations are at work here:
We are satisfied when we reach a 'good result'. But if we had carried on thinking, we would have possibly found a superior result.
We shouldn't stop thinking when we find an answer that is adequate. Frequently, there is more than just one answer. Therefore, we should get into the habit of carrying on with our thinking after an adequate answer has been found.
This raises the question of how much time and effort we should put into finding the superior answer. A choice between decision and action often presents itself. We could spend time looking for a superior answer but time is limited.
But even if you just spend a small amount of time looking for a superior answer, you won't be wasting that time, and sometimes the results will make a great deal of difference.
We are aware that there are other possible ways but there is a difficulty in persuading others that it is a worthwhile business strategy to explore them.
You can't start by highlighting the shortcomings of the present approach because there might not be any that are apparent. So you have to focus on the benefits and values of other potential approaches.
You can then compare the values that new methods could bring with those of the current approach. Big differences might become apparent.
The matter under consideration is excellent and is not going to be changed or rethought. But by itself, like the rear-left wheel of the car, it is not sufficient. Just like traditional thinking, it is excellent but not enough.
These three situations all lack the driving force of criticism. Usually, you can point out what is wrong with something and then use that as motivation to improve it or solve the problem.
'Challenge' is a lateral thinking technique that can help those in business management to look beyond existing thinking patterns.
Challenge is a powerful thinking tool but it requires discipline. If you use it only to focus on weak or faulty ideas then it loses its power.
Challenge can help you find alternatives to even the best ideas.