Lateral thinking vs complacency

Dec 17 2007 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

There are many organizations which are doing well at the moment and yet are threatened by their own complacency. Why? Because they have no thought for a future in which Chinese competition, at a much lower price, could be a threat to their business.

Complacency does not relate only to blindness concerning the future. It can also indicate a smug satisfaction with the current status quo, and a resistance to creative techniques such as lateral thinking. This complacency can cut off paths of development and growth even when are no threats in the future.

There are many reasons why complacency occurs. Some people have an aversion to taking risks. Others are frightened of creativity and new ideas because they are unsure of how to deal with them.

Unless the business in question is a family firm, chief executives are usually senior executives who have been promoted to the top position. Their role and purpose has been continuity. They do what they are supposed to and deal with problems as and when they arise.

As a result, their constant mode is continuity and problem-solving. What counts to them is continuity and survival - and the result is complacency.

Arrogance also plays a part in complacency. Sometimes smart people become arrogant. They think that they are able to do all the thinking necessary. They believe that if a new idea is needed then they will, of course, have that idea. This might be a personal characteristic but, today, there is an even stronger foundation for arrogance.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between arrogance and ignorance. This is because arrogance frequently arises from ignorance.

I could tell an executive that I could come up with new ideas that would increase profits of that organization by 100 per cent within seven years, but I would not be believed. The reason for this is ignorance of the very powerful tools of lateral thinking.

There is no great mystery to lateral thinking. It is not some positive mental attitude. Lateral thinking incorporates specific tools that can be used deliberately in order to formulate new ideas.

There is such an overlap of innocence and ignorance that usually they are indistinguishable. Ignorance can arise when someone does not make enough effort to become better informed and fails even to accept that there might be something that can be learned. Innocence is when someone is quite innocently unaware of any possibility of change.

We have very well-developed, logical and analytical judgment skills. However, many people think creative thinking is either an inborn talent or some kind of mystery. Of course, it is neither. In reality, creativity and lateral thinking can be learned deliberately and applied formally, just like the way we might apply mathematical skills.

There is so much more that can be done to improve human thinking. If the possibility of change is not considered, then nothing will be done to make that change happen, no matter how necessary.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono (1933-2021) was a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.