Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0202, May 3, 2005 | 7,000 Subscribers..

Dear friends,

Stupid comments and ideas are not often rewarded nor encouraged in our groups or friends and peers. However, when you understand the potential of the creative thinking technique called, "Provocation," intentionally making these kinds of comments may not be such a bad idea in the right context. This week's article, "Using Stupidity to Provoke Creativity," summarizes the steps you can take to break out of regular patters of thinking to provoke new ideas with individuals and groups.

Also, if you have involved or plan to be involved facilitating or managing virtual teams, you'll want to attend our upcoming 5-day teleclass starting June 13th called
Managing People You Rarely See. This teleclass will be of interest to facilitators and leaders working with virtual groups. Check out the details on this class at the bottom of this issue and join us to learn more about the challenges and opportunities of creating a sense of team at a distance.

In this Issue:

Feature Article: Using Stupidity to Provoke Creativity

Book Resource: Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step

New 5-Day Teleclass: Managing People You Rarely See

Have a great week!

Steve Davis


Starts June 13th
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Starts June 6th
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Self-Guided Version
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Group Management Skill

Using Stupidity to Provoke Creativity
Using the lateral thinking technique of "Provocation" to stimulate new ideas.

The Point

We think by recognizing patterns and reacting to them. These reactions come from our past experiences and logical extensions to those experiences. Often we do not think outside these patterns. While we may know the answer as part of a different type of problem, the structure of our brains makes it difficult for us to link this in.

Provocation is one of the tools we use to make links between these patterns.

We use it by making deliberately stupid statements (Provocations), in which something we take for granted about the situation is not true. Statements need to be stupid to shock our minds out of existing ways of thinking. Once we have made a provocative statement, we then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas. Provocations give us original starting points for creative thinking.


As an example, we could make a statement that 'Houses should not have roofs'. Normally this would not be a good idea! However this leads one to think of houses with opening roofs, or houses with glass roofs. These would allow you to lie in bed and look up at the stars.

Once you have made the Provocation, you can use it in a number of different ways, by examining:

  • The consequences of the statement
  • What the benefits would be
  • What special circumstances would make it a sensible solution
  • The principles needed to support it and make it work
  • How it would work moment-to-moment
  • What would happen if a sequence of events was changed

Edward de Bono has developed and popularized use of Provocation by using the word 'Po'. 'Po' stands for 'Provocative operation'. As well as laying out how to use Provocation effectively, he suggests that when we make a Provocative statement in public the we label it as such with 'Po' (e.g. 'Po: the earth is flat'). This does rely on all members of your audience knowing about Provocation!

As with other lateral thinking techniques, Provocation does not always produce good or relevant ideas. Often, though, it does. Ideas generated using Provocation are likely to be fresh and original.


The owner of a video-hire shop is looking at new ideas for business to compete with the Internet. She starts with the provocation 'Customers should not pay to borrow videos'.

She then examines the provocation:

  • Consequences: The shop would get no rental revenue and therefore would need alternative sources of cash. It would be cheaper to borrow the video from the shop than to download the film or order it from a catalogue.
  • Benefits: Many more people would come to borrow videos. More people would pass through the shop. The shop would spoil the market for other video shops in the area.
  • Circumstances: The shop would need other revenue. Perhaps the owner could sell advertising in the shop, or sell popcorn, sweets, bottles of wine or pizzas to people borrowing films. This would make her shop a one-stop 'Night at home' shop. Perhaps it would only lend videos to people who had absorbed a 30-second commercial, or completed a market research questionnaire.

After using the Provocation, the owner of the video shop decides to run an experiment for several months. She will allow customers to borrow the top ten videos free (but naturally will fine them for late returns). She puts the videos at the back of the shop. In front of them she places displays of bottles of wine, soft drinks, popcorn and sweets so that customers have to walk past them to get to the videos. Next to the film return counter she sells merchandise from the top ten films being hired.

If the approach is a success she will open a pizza stand inside the shop.

Key points

  • Provocation is an important lateral thinking technique that helps to generate original starting points for creative thinking.
  • To use provocation, make a deliberately stupid comment relating to the problem you are thinking about. Then suspend judgment, and use the statement as the starting point for generating ideas.
  • Often this approach will help you to generate completely new concepts.

© Mind Tools Ltd, 1995 2005


Use the provocation technique right now to generate new ideas in an area of concern in your business or personal life.
Please send us your comments.


Lateral Thinking : Creativity Step by Step, by Edward De Bono

The seminal book that introduced a new way of reasoning and decision making. "Dr. de Bono does not claim to be able to turn us all into Miltons, Da Vincis, and Einsteins. . . . The Muse never appears to most of us--hence the value of this book." --Times Educational Supplement

In the Spotlight

Managing People You Rarely See

5-day Teleclass on the Management and Facilitation of Virtual/Distributed Teams

Unlock the potential of your virtual team as an effective distance manager

June 13-17 1:00-2:00 PM Eastern Time

The Art of Managing an Outstanding Virtual Team. Managing people from a distance isn’t easy.

Do you need to get rapid results from people collaborating across multiple locations? This class will discuss managing remote relationships and frameworks for successfully managing projects across large distances. There are issues created by the geographic distance between team members. But those issues can be overcome, and in fact, the potential of a distance team to accomplish amazing feats far outweighs any logistical liabilities. Project development teams scattered around the country or around the globe can take advantage of the best scientific minds, technical skills and subject matter experts...if they can manage the remote relationships effectively. This course will build remote management competencies by providing a framework for success and applying it to real-life examples. The course contains consolidated information packed into a one-day format. Click here for full details and registration.

The Improvisational Leader

Your life is already an improv. Learn how to get it right on the first take!

Learn improv techniques to become a more effective facilitator, trainer, and group leader

June 6-10, 1:00-2:00 PM Eastern Time (Recorded version available)

The Improvisational Leader Teleclass

The inner attitudes of facilitators, trainers, and leaders is the key to their success with groups. However, very few trainings address the development of those inner qualities that can make a good leader great. That's why I'm thrilled to be offering this class where we'll present powerful, practical improv techniques that are actually inner attitudes and practicies that you can use to immediately enhance your facilitation, training, and group leadership skills.

This dynamic teleclass, led by master trainer, Sue Walden, is for anyone who facilitates, manages, teaches, mediates, coaches, counsels, directs any group. This highly interactive course provides an experiential approach using very novel exercises to help you build the skills to create an environment for participation; one that encourages openness and risk-taking for you and groups.
Click here for details and registration.

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