Facilitator Journal | Issue #0202, May 3, 2005 | 7,000 Subscribers..
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.
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Using Stupidity to Provoke Creativity
the lateral thinking technique of "Provocation" to stimulate
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
Provocation is one of the tools we use to make links between these
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.
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
- What special circumstances
would make it a sensible solution
- The principles
needed to support it and make it work
- How it would work
- 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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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