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It’s good to stumble

Friday, October 12, 2012

The fear of mistakes often proves a big hurdle to creativity. Edward de Bono deconstructs the road to creative inspiration. Sudhamahi Regunathan

Edward de Bono is well known for the six thinking hats that one should don. This talk on creativity is, in short, snippets, with each snippet bound to the other with a subheading that gives the subject for the next snippet. The first subheading reads, “The Human Brain”, and de Bono begins by saying, “If we look at the human brain as a computer, we then have to ask, what the software we use with that computer is. In general, the software for Western civilization was originally designed 2,400 years ago by the Greek Gang of Three: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. We have done virtually nothing about thinking since then.”

Even as you squirm thinking of not just the antiquity of the wisdom we are holding on to but also the fact that non-European cultures have given up their inheritance to fall into this stupor too, de Bono continues, “Creative thinking is a skill. It is not a matter of individual talent. It is not sitting by the river and hearing Baroque music and hoping for inspiration. That is very weak stuff.”

So much for the Muse we wooed with style. The road to creative inspiration has to be methodical, says de Bono and gives the example of China. “Two thousand years ago China was way ahead of Western science and technology. They had rockets and gunpowder and such things. What happened? The scholars in China started to believe that you could move from certainty to certainty and as a result never developed the possibility system; never developed hypotheses, speculation, imagination. Progress came to a dead end.”

The second point to note is that the new idea, the creative idea, must have value. Edward de Bono says being creative is not just to be different. This is a mistaken understanding of creativity. Says de Bono, “…and that is what gets creativity a bad name. So if you look at a door and say doors are generally rectangular, let us make a triangular door…unless you can show value for that, it is not creativity. It is just being different for the sake of being different.”

How does one be creative? “Provocation is one of the tools to lateral thinking and is completely opposite to logical thinking,” says Edward de Bono. “According to logical thinking you can say only that which makes sense, fits in with our experiences and with what we have said before. With a provocation there may not be a reason for saying something until after you have said it… it puts us on a different patterning system and allows us to open new ideas. Thinking outside the box means to think of unusual things, to be creative. The notion is that we are all within a box which is formed by the constraints, by our expectations, by the concepts we use, by the perceptions we use, and we play around in that box. So it means developing an idea which would not have been expected in our usual thinking and usual behaviour.”

Creative thinking, thinking out of the box, lateral thinking are all the same, but de Bono prefers, ‘lateral thinking’ because that is very specifically defined in system terms which means, “… moving across from the main pattern to a side pattern which once you are there in hindsight, you can link with your starting point.”

But does creativity not come with great angst about the outcome? Agrees de Bono,

“One of the reasons why people are reluctant to be creative, in general, is that if you try out an idea and it does not work, that is regarded as a mistake. A big deficiency in the English language is that we don’t have a word which says: fully justified venture which for reasons beyond your control did not succeed. So anything that does not succeed is called a mistake and people don’t like mistakes…”