By Deborah Done
What, or whom, comes into your mind if someone talks about “creativity”? Is it the image of the tortured artist, freezing in his or her garret, lit by feeble candlelight; their momentary flashes of genius expressed via canvas, music or pen & ink? Or is it the slightly left-field team in the office, with their open-necked shirts, thinking “out of the box” and coming up with “blue-sky ideas?”
Whatever your pre-conceptions may be on the creative process and those who practise it, be ready to have them debunked by the truly creative genius that is Edward de Bono. De Bono has been working in the field of lateral thinking for all his professional and academic life – in fact, he came up with the very term. His latest book, “Serious Creativity: How To Be Creative Under Pressure and Turn Ideas into Action” pulls together many of the themes and ideas he’s developed over his long and auspicious career into a useful and practical guide.
I came only lately to de Bono and loved this book from cover-to-cover. I'd imagine if you’ve read his previous works, this may cover a lot of old ground but if you haven’t discovered him before I’d highly recommend giving it a go.
Why might this book matter to you as a business owner? Here’s why. De Bono points out that for the last 47 years there have only really been three games in town if you’re trying to grow your business. Firstly there was what he describes as restructuring or buying growth. Whether you’re a small business buying a competitor’s database or a large business making an acquisition, this was one strategic route to develop your business.
Then there’s the cost-cutting game. Another way to increase profit is (evidently) to reduce your cost base. It’s measurable and you can see clear results. But to quote De Bono, it can only go so far because “there comes a time when all the fat is gone and further cuts reduce the muscle”.
The third game in town, which is a positive and admirable one, is improving customer service and quality. The theory being, if you improve customer service you increase retention and loyalty. All very sensible thinking.
But there comes a point as a business owner when you may have tried all three of these things and are making them all work so well that you’re reaching a point of impasse. Where do you go next? In the words of De Bono, “What happens when all your competitors are just as lean and competent as you and your cost-effectiveness is no longer a unique advantage? The more able senior executives know that creativity is now the main hope”. Essentially, you need to generate new ideas. But where do they come from and how do you develop them?
When he speaks of creativity, de Bono isn’t talking about artistic creativity – the artist in the garret or the left-field marketeers – but the “ability to change concepts and perceptions”. He believes there are deliberate, systematic techniques that anyone can use to re-evaluate every element of the way they do things, to see whether there are better, more challenging or more productive alternatives.
De Bono doesn’t believe creativity is a natural talent. He doesn’t believes it necessarily equates to having a high IQ. He doesn’t believe in the old left brain/right brain divisions. Or that you need to be a rebel, or even a little crazy to be creative.
He does, however, believe that to get the best outcome, you should approach problems open-mindedly rather than by drawing on previous experience (the classic, "we've done it before and it didn't work" response); you have to be motivated to effect change through thinking differently; you need the creative energy to make things actually happen, rather than simply initiating ideas and not seeing them through; and you should value the power of chance and accident to open you to different patterns and possibilities. Lateral thinking techniques, he believes, can be used in formal, deliberate and systematic way to generate new ideas and change perceptions.
As a business there are many positive reasons to use creative thinking. It can bring improvement to the ways thing are already done, in the manner of the Japanese kaizen approach. It can design new opportunities for businesses or the individuals within them. It can help businesses build in flexibility and resilience to cope with the multiplicity of directions that they may take in the future. Thinking creatively – and rewarding and recognising those in the organisation who do – can be hugely motivating.
De Bono then goes on to offer a range of tools, techniques and exercises to practise to encourage the development of lateral thinking. Not only are they practical and challenging but they are often entertaining to try out. You can apply them to your family life, your studies, your holiday plans or your exercise regime, as much as you can to your business to help you think of new ideas and approaches or new ways to challenge and improve the status quo.
De Bono also looks at the broader picture within an organisation to ensure these new practices can be implemented effectively, whether it be down to training, people or programmes. He also includes a chapter on evaluation to decide whether an idea is feasible, how to measure its success and how to proceed with it if it is viable.
De Bono presents all these concepts in such a clear and accessible way that it makes for a really enjoyable read for the layman and the newcomer to lateral thinking concepts. It entirely challenged my classically traditional view of the creative process and redefined for me what creativity meant. It has given me the confidence to try to think a little differently, with fresh eyes, even about the most mundane elements of my life, personal or professional. According to the de Bono website, “Used correctly, creative thinking can save companies millions of dollars as the best and cheapest way to get added value out of existing resources and assets.” I’d say, if that's your only motivation to read this book, it has to be worth a try.
To purchase Edward de Bono's 'Serious Creativity: A Step-by-Step Approach to Using the Logic of Creative Thinking', follow this link http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0091939704