Generating possibilities

Feb 13 2008 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Every business has the opportunity to try things and experiment in order to further business development, but people often prefer certainty as the basis for action. Armed with such certainty, we have the confidence to drive forward.

The foundation for this belief and certainty might not actually be based on fact. However, we need to act on the assumption that the certainty is genuine, particularly if we require the approval or help of others for our actions to take place.

For this reason, we often avoid possibilities, even when different opportunities for business development are necessary. We make no effort to generate the possibilities in the fear that they could dilute the certainty we feel necessary for action.

So how can we give possibilities the priority they deserve? Who can take charge of generating possibilities?

A common problem is that an adequate answer acts as a stubborn block to further thinking. The only way to remove the block is by generating possibilities.

One case in medicine represented a huge change and also illustrates perfectly the power and importance of 'possibilities'.

The duodenal, or peptic (stomach) ulcer, used to be a very difficult condition to treat and manage. Many suffers had to take antacids for more than 20 years while at the same time they were restricted as to what they were allowed to eat or drink. Sometimes surgery was necessary and part of the stomach had to be removed. This was the situation faced by patients and doctors for decades.

However, B.J. Marshall, a doctor from Western Australia, saw the possibility that peptic ulcers could be the result of an infection, so he investigated further. The accepted opinion at that time was that infection was an unlikely cause as it was assumed that the powerful hydrochloric acid in the stomach would easily kill any bacteria. The simple and adequate explanation was that ulcers were caused by the acid itself.

But Marshall was determined to challenge the adequate explanation. He made a culture of the bacteria that he thought might be the cause of the ulcers and then deliberately infected himself.

Eventually, his point was proved. Now, instead of facing 20 years of discomfort and inconvenience on antacids, peptic ulcer sufferers can be cured with a weeks' course of antibiotics.

Coming up with possibilities from within an organisation can be hard because guidelines, experience and values often direct the executive mind away from possibilities and towards a firm conclusion instead.

However, one possible solution to this problem is to appoint a 'possibilities officer'. Their role would be to collect and generate possibilities for business development or any situation.

The person appointed as possibilities officer would have to be senior enough to make important decisions and have access where needed, but not so senior that they would not have enough time for the new role.

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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.