Ideas and problem solving

Mar 07 2008 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

There are very adequate ideas all around us. So which ones should we challenge to make an improvement?

In certain modern cultures, all thinking is labelled problem solving – the US is an example. Arriving at any desired end-point is thought of as 'solving the problem'.

But to my mind, this language and approach is dangerous because people might start to think that only 'problems' need consideration.

We already have the expression: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. But just because something isn't broken doesn't mean it can't be improved upon.

I am a strong believer in using a 'creative hit list'. This is a list of areas, subjects, situations and, yes, problems, that would benefit from creative thinking.

The area of attention might require real problem solving. Or it might be a high-cost area. Perhaps it would be a subject where little attention had been paid or where hardly any new thinking had been done.

Some of the areas on the list might be instantly obvious while others might be more obscure.

I sometimes ask participants at seminars to compile such a creative hit list for their own organisations. They usually manage about six items, but such lists should always be clear in the back of people's minds.

Of course, you can still be creative about any area or subject not on the list – and indeed you should. The list simply acts as a series of permanent focuses. So rather than sitting around saying, "We are all creative, what shall we be creative about?" there is now a list of defined needs.

Everybody should develop their own creative skills. This can be achieved by practising and using the formal tools of lateral thinking. 'Idea creativity' holds no mystery. Lateral thinking is founded on an understanding of the brain as a self-organising information system that makes asymmetric patterns.

Sometimes it might not be possible to come up with new ideas. There are times when a new direction is sufficient and can be followed up so specific ideas can then be formulated.

We live in a world of logic, mathematics and certainty, and because of this we undervalue the role of possibility to a great extent. Because action requires certainty, this is understandable.

Our creative skills have been limited because of this obsession with certainty. Creativity works in the area of possibility right up to the last moment and even then it might be necessary to try things out.

So the achievement of practical creativity has three aspects:

1. Having the intention and the will to think and act creatively.

2. Choosing the focus, rather than just picking 'problems'.

3. Deliberately applying the formal tools of lateral thinking.

Don't wait until you see a situation that requires problem solving. Use creativity to make improvements in any area you can.

more articles

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.