The problem-solving problem

Jun 06 2008 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

Current thinking habits are obsessed with problem-solving. In fact, there are plenty of people who regard all thinking as 'problem-solving'. This is a problem in itself.

The word 'problem' tends to mean fault, deficiency or something undesirable. These are legitimate grounds for thinking. However, other areas exist where no obvious problem is apparent Ė nothing is lacking or wrong. Creative thinking should be applied to these areas too.

Problem-solving holds clear attractions. It makes convincing others of a new idea much easier. If the new idea is shown to solve the problem, then it will be embraced by anyone who wants the problem to disappear.

But in the absence of an apparent problem to solve, you can still come up with powerful, useful new ideas.

There are times when value can be added. You can take a product and make it more convenient, more flexible or simpler to operate.

In general, things that apparently do not need thinking about do not get the benefit of creative thinking. The biggest enemies of creative thinking are satisfaction and complacency.

Creative focus can be divided broadly between two types: purpose focus and area focus.

Purpose focus is the type with which people will be most familiar. We define a need and then seek to use our thinking to satisfy the need we have defined. We are aware of what we are thinking about, and we are aware of what we wish to achieve. So there is a definite and known target. 'Problem-solving' is the classic example of purpose focus.

We may need recourse to creative thinking for this if the usual analytical approach breaks down. Or we might choose to use creative thinking even when the problem has been 'solved' with an adequate solution but want to keep looking in case a better solution is found.

Creative thinking might also be necessary to achieve a defined task. If there is no routine way of carrying out the task, creative thinking is essential. In these types of situation, creative thinking is part of design thinking.

'Improvement' is a third type of purpose focus. We might be carrying out an operation and decide that the process can be improved upon. It is useful to define the direction of improvement. We might wish to do things faster. We might wish to do things less expensively. We might wish to do things in a simpler manner.

Area focus differs significantly from purpose focus. It might even be the most important creative focus. With area focus it is not necessary to focus on one particular area. You focus on a particular area because you choose to. There is no problem to solve or deficiency to correct. You are not even looking to improve something. You are simply choosing to define an area as your focus for creative thinking.

With area focus you define any area you want to. With area focus you look to produce ideas within a defined area. But you do not determine the nature of those ideas.

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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.