Thinking Managers

Edward de Bono of points out that, since we are naturally creatures of routine, we need a conscious process for finding 'new track' ideas.

New Track Thinking

The brain is a self-organising system that allows incoming information to arrange itself into routine patterns. That is the excellence of the brain. There are 39,916,800 ways of getting dressed with 11 items of clothing. If we were to spend one minute trying each way, we would need to live to be 76 years old doing nothing else all our lives. It is because the brain forms routine patterns that we can get dressed, cross the road, get to our offices, read, write, etc.

In a very similar way, organisations act as self-organising systems. The people working in an organisation absorb the culture and idiom of the organisation. They learn the values and objectives. They become effective and efficient in driving the organisation towards its objectives. It would be absurd to call this ‘in the box’ thinking. I would prefer to call it ‘main track thinking’. We can go fast and get far using main track thinking.

But the stronger the main track thinking, the more difficult it is to open up new track thinking. We are blocked by the openness of the main track, which pulls our thinking in that direction.

There are several possible levels of idea. There are very broad concepts which could also be called directions. If you wanted to reduce traffic congestion in a city, one broad direction might be to ‘seek to reduce traffic’. Another broad direction might be to ‘increase travel space’.

Each broad direction would then be served by more specific concepts. For example, ‘working from home’ would reduce the need to travel to work. Using buses, lightweight trains or multiple use taxis could reduce the number of vehicles needed.

Finally there would be the level of ‘practical ideas’. There would be a need for practical ideas to deliver the concepts generated.

The ability to work at different idea levels is important. If you go straight from the need to a practical idea, you may indeed have something of value. But if you go first to a concept, you would then be able to generate several practical ideas.

It is possible that if you go directly to a practical idea, you can seek to ‘extract the concept’ behind that idea. From this concept you can then generate further practical ideas.

It is important to develop the habit of thinking at different levels of ideas and concepts. It is also important to notice when concepts change.

There is a mathematical need for creativity. Information comes in over time. It is organised into usable ideas. Further information adds to these ideas. There can come a time when creative thinking can reorganise the information in an entirely different way.

Consider a game in which one letter at a time is added. The task is always to form a word from the existing word and the new letter: a+t=at; at+c=cat; cat+o=coat; coat+r=? The last change involves a restructuring. Previous changes were additions.

More and more information does not itself produce new ideas. More and more analysis does not itself produce new ideas. More and more logic does not itself produce new ideas. So there is a real need to develop the skill of lateral thinking..

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