Practicing De Bono: A Way To Enhance Lateral Thinking – Article

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Practicing De Bono: A Way To Enhance Lateral Thinking

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Most of us in the new product development or creative problem solving world have been exposed to Edward De Bono. If you haven’t, this article attempts to summarize what you need to know in order to take advantage of this tool.

De Bono is the godfather of the term “lateral thinking”. Lateral thinking looks to restructure patterns of thinking within the brain to create insight. It also provokes new patterns of thinking and new ideas by utilizing creativity. For a full explanation of lateral thinking, check out De Bono’s book Lateral Thinking.

In the book referenced above, De Bono states that the mind is, at its core, an information handling system. Information is taken in through our senses and is organized and stored to be recalled (to the best of our ability) at a later time. Through our memory, the mind self-organizes the information taken in into patterns.

An example De Bono uses to illustrate this is pouring water over water over a flat piece of jelly. When the water is first poured, it begins to create grooves in the jelly. If you keep pouring water on the jelly, the grooves that were formed now guide the water where to go. The additional water only deepens and further defines these grooves. The water went from the guider to the guided.

This ties extremely close to the bias exercise we use when we run our ethnographic trainings. This exercise helps recognize biases so they can be managed when out in the field. Biases are conditioned ways of thinking constructed from our experiences. Biases skew the data we collect by automatically trying to categorize it into the experiences from our past. By doing this, biases make it difficult to uncover new insights and “ah-has” because the data is fitting into the same old patterns. They turn objective research into subjective research because data is based on someone else’s biases.

In De Bono’s example, biases are the grooves that guide the information taken in and organize it in a way we already know. So if we’re prone to doing this, how do we stop these from getting in the way of our new insights?

The first step is recognizing that you have a bias. The exercise we use helps bring a few biases to mind and allows the participant to recognize the behaviors and thought patterns that happen when a bias is skewing data. Recognizing these biases is half the battle.

I learned a tool to help manage and change biases that can be used anywhere, including in the field, at this year’s Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI). It was from a presentation by Frank Prince called “Be Creative 24/7 – 11 Key Strategies To Boost Creativity”. The presentation was built around simple tools people could use in their everyday lives to be more creative.

Frank stated that to get out of patterns, we need to change our behavior. Disrupting automatic behavior physically will cause a change in the pattern mentally. To do that, he recommended wearing a rubber band or one of the popular rubber bracelets and snapping it when it is recognized that these patterns are happening.

As a hypothetical, let’s say you’re in the field conducting research. The respondent you’re interviewing states that she loves widgets. You, through a past experience, have come to hate widgets. You begin to note your insight from the skewed perspective of your past when stop and recognize what you’re doing. You snap the bracelet on your wrist and change your observation to state what you observed, not your perspective of it. This observation leads to an insight that your service could be offered with widgets.

By disrupting learned patterns, the behavior learned through our biases is changing. The information taken in is pulled king in out of the patterns biases have created. By freeing the information from this pattern, it is free to be arranged into any pattern by looking at it objectively. Rearranging information this way could lead to a breakthrough insight that was impossible when the bias had a hold of the information.

This is the heart of lateral thinking – freeing data from pre-existing patterns so it can be rearranged into new ones, leading to new insights not otherwise possible.