Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of points out that while complacency is a major obstacle to change, it can be challenged.

Challenging complacency with new ideas

You need to make a strong case with new ideas if you want to challenge complacency. It is far too vague to simply claim that ‘things could be better’.

However, you should be willing to challenge complacency, and this willingness can come from considering the benefits of making a challenge.

Sometimes, by considering alternative approaches you can actually confirm the current one is indeed the best. So even if you don’t find a better approach, trying to do so can be of great benefit.

You might also discover concepts, factors and values that could be useful in the future when you think about alternatives, so that is obviously another benefit.

There is always a fear that someone will be less enthusiastic and less competent in running a system if their thinking is challenging the current situation. After all, an admission that there could be a better way which has not yet been found must reduce the conviction that the present way is the best available. So this could explain why executives are reluctant to challenge complacency.

Everyone who works in an organisation absorbs its culture, idioms, values and methods. Because of this, the ‘main track thinking’ is very effective and necessary. However, it does become difficult to move away from the main track and challenge the complacency which uses and relies on this main track.

There is difficulty even in cases where an individual motivation to challenge complacency is evident, because there is a silent absorption of the concepts and values of the organisation. That’s why an outside thinker can be useful to see things differently and challenge complacency.

The twin aspects of risk and value are always encountered when exploring a new idea. You must question whether the new idea will work, if it’s feasible, what the cost will be and how much disruption it will cause. The value that might be delivered by the new idea is the most important thing to consider. Ask what form this value will take, whether it is about saving money or increasing simplicity, whether it is perceived value or customer value, who the beneficiaries of this value will be, whether it is just a brief novelty value or a durable value, etc.

If it is possible without causing disruption, try the new idea alongside the existing idea. If the new idea demands a total switch from the old idea then that is a high-risk situation.

It is simply an extension of complacency to believe that there cannot be a better way than the current one even before you look at alternatives. You will emphasise the value of the current idea if you try to find a better way and fail. However, that should not prevent you from attempting to find a better way again at a later date.

So complacency needs to be challenged in all situations – not because of dissatisfaction with the current idea and not even because of confidence in finding a better one. If for no other reason, complacency should be challenged because failure to find a better idea will vindicate the current state of affairs. Complacency can only be justified when an effort to challenge it fails.

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