Creative thinking (Part 2)

One of the first “business books” I read was Edward de Bono’s 1985 bestseller Six Thinking Hats.  He has subsequently written dozens of books – and bought an island off Venice with the well-earned proceeds – but the Six Hats is his “biggie” (in contrast to his much more scholarly ’69 book, The Mechanism of Mind, which I have on my bookshelf too).

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He has built a sizeable industry from his following proposition:

“Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits.”

— Edward de Bono

He showed the way for groups to use the Six Hats in turn – blue for overall “process control” of the creative thinking process, white for “facts-only, please!”, etc. – to ideate in a far more productive manner than just shootin’-the-breeze or having another brainstorming meeting.

Just being able to name these different aspects of the creative process (and hence evoke and revoke them as needed) is very powerful.

But here’s a white-hat moment, for you….I only realised tonight that Joe Lagowski’s great “Creativity” editorial, the Six Thinking Hats book and the following “Best of HBR” article all appeared first in 1985 (Where were you in 1985?  I know where I was:  first year university!).

Drucker 1985 Innovation

Peter Drucker makes the point that innovation (I know some people contend this is something different to creative thinking, but I don’t want to put too fine a point on it now) can be fostered by managers. It can be evoked.  It is not something inscrutable and inaccessible.

There are certain critical success factors that are conducive to its “appearance”.  This has of course given rise to shelves and shelves of “how-to” books.  I will let John Cleese succinctly state the key requirement of openness [see my previous blog entry for the full quote].

“…we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are the most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent.”

Let me finish off Part 2, by returning to the Osborn-Parnes CPS model I mentioned in Part 1.  I have listed the first of the two “Aha’s” it gave me: take a step back before you start and dwell on naming the “mess” before you leap into (re)solving “it”.

The second “Aha” is related.  As you – slowly and deliberately – move from the “Objective Finding” [the big So-What?] front-end of the CPS process to “Acceptance Finding” [the implementation phase] regularly pan-wide at each and every step; don’t just stay stuck in the zoomed-in mode!  Your mind needs to be as flexible as a zoom-lens that is able to slide to wide-angle for the “bigger-picture” and then selectively zoom in for the “details” and then back out again, and so on…

CPS model which shows widening- and narrowing-views via diverging and converging arrows

This of course all takes time.  And there lies the rub.  When the pressure is on (“Urgent!!!”) and answers are required, this is the commodity in shortest supply.  Most consulting projects I worked in in my early career started at half-way through the “Solution Finding” phase shown above (the converging half; no time to diverge!).

It was then up to me and my team to save it at the “Acceptance Finding” phase.  I hated that…the sense of addressing the wrong challenge haunted me more than once.

I’ll leave you with this sage advice:

“A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.”

– Issawi’s Law of the Path of Progress

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