Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of suggests that too many people shy away from applying their creative energies to change because problem solving is easier and more immediate.

Decision making and the benefits change can bring

Before the benefits of a new idea become apparent there will be a negative period of confusion, the disruption of systems, criticism, criticism of cost, etc. All the negatives may be apparent or imagined immediately – but the benefits can only be seen in the future, and only if you are alert to spotting them. It is important to think about the future benefits of change in the decision making process. Unfortunately, this doesn't often happen.

Would a CEO with an uncertain term of office be willing to decide on change when the full benefits of such a change might only show 20 years down the line? It is unlikely.

There are types of change where the benefits are much more immediate. Problem solving is one obvious example of a change which can show immediate benefits. Something is causing a problem for someone or the system. Solving the problem shows instant benefits. Even if the benefits are not instant, they can easily be foreseen.

Problem solving, therefore, is an attractive exercise. As a result, too much management thinking is centred around problem solving. Creativity is only viewed as an additional tool of problem solving.

The upshot is that matters which are not problems and which are perfectly satisfactory never get attention. There is no willingness to suggest change in such areas because the benefits of changing are not immediately apparent.

Improvement is always harder than problem solving. That is why slow, incremental improvement is much favoured. The risk is small and gradually the benefits become apparent.

There are always two types of risk involved with change.

The first is that the proposed change might not work. So there is a loss of time, money, energy, reputation, etc.

The second risk is that the idea might work too well, but that one of its side effects is to hurt or damage the organisation’s current systems.

Just as perceived gain is a powerful motivator, so perceived risk can be a de-motivating factor.

The ideal design of change is to suggest something where the benefits are easily seen. Also, it should be possible to try the change in a pilot scheme or small area so that the benefits can be seen. These benefits would provide motivation for extending the reach of the change. This isn't always possible.

You could point to the success of the proposed change in other areas. You could point to the success of somewhat similar changes. Neither of these is totally convincing because those who are reluctant could point to differences in circumstances – which might be valid.

The usual pattern of change is to let others try it first. When the idea has been shown to work, then you come in with a ‘me too’ and try to do it better than the initiators.

There are examples both ways. Sony initiated the video recorder with the Betamax system, but then VHS entered the market and took over. However, Sony kept its lead with the Walkman.

First to the market might be successful – or it might not. Certainly the risk and the cost for those who are not first to the market is very much less. It is important in the design of change is to consider the time profile of the benefits.

About the author
Edward de Bono is the world's leading authority in the field of creative thinking and the teaching of thinking as a skill.

  Edward de Bono