Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of points out that creativity often occurs when identifying a solution to a problem, but that creativity can also occur without a problem to solve.

Creativity is more than problem solving

Our ingrained habits of problem solving make true creativity hard to achieve. We are used to identifying a problem or defect and then working to put it right. This behaviour is valuable in its own right – but it is not enough. There are creative changes that do not arise from problems or defects.

We should be able to look at something and say to ourselves, "This could be done differently." We can then find another way of doing it, after which we look for the value – which may or may not be there.

The ability to think up small changes to regular routines or established ideas – even if you do not carry them out – is good practice in creativity.

You can set a guiding value for yourself. For instance, the new idea might reduce the cost of manufacture. Or, the new idea might be to make something simpler to use. Or, the new idea could lead to more effective use.

Problem solving implies an existing frame or state of mind. We know how something should be done and try to do it. Creativity might include: "We do not know how it should be done, so let’s explore possibilities."

The failure to distinguish between real problem solving and the 'intention' of the thinking can lead to problems.

The argument is that anything you try to achieve is a problem that has to be solved – rather than a thinking task. The result is that people only get to think about problems that are defects.

It is much better to use the broader term 'thinking task' for something you want to achieve with your thinking.

Your thinking task might be 'a new design for a paper clip'. That is not driven by considering the faults of the existing clip. But when you get the new design, you will need to show the value. At this point you might need to show why the new design is better than the existing design. This is very different from looking for the faults in the existing design and then trying to 'solve' these problems.

As I have so often said, the identification of value is a key component of creativity. I have sat in on creative meetings where very good ideas were suggested, but no one seemed able to recognise the value in these excellent ideas.

Value sensitivity is a key skill, but is almost totally absent from education, which concerns itself with critical thinking – right and wrong and fitting expectations.

You should be able to take any suggestion or idea and find some value in it. The value may be small and completely overwhelmed by cost, inconvenience and other important negatives. But you should still be able to identify the value.

Once a value has been identified, you can work to strengthen that value – and even deliver the value in a different way. If you cannot identify the value, then your thinking comes to a halt.

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