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The Power of Creativity

Le pouvoir de la créativité

If you’ve used a “Post-It” recently, taken a Uber or Lyft car ride, walked through automatic self-opening doors or simply clicked your computer mouse and navigated through the internet, you owe a lot directly or indirectly to Edward de Bono, a scientist whose fields of interest expanded far beyond his initial studies in medicine and psychology. De Bono died in June this year and left behind a legacy principally marked by his work on what he called “lateral thinking”.

Lateral thinking is now a standard term to describe techniques to unlock creativity and generate new ideas. Its opposite, “vertical thinking”, is what de Bono came to see as an obstacle to human progress, because of its overreliance on pure logic and using what has already worked in the past as the main guideline for how to generate solutions to present-day problems.

De Bono wrote many books. By far the most used in business is his “Six Thinking Hats”, a classic that is the basis for many training programs. In essence, he recommends that when people are looking for new opportunities or solutions to problems, they should use six thinking styles, each with its own “hat” of a different color:

The Power of Creativity

What is the “Big picture”, what are our priorities?

Gathering and considering all relevant facts

How do we feel about everything we’re discussing? What are our emotions?

What are the pros and cons? Let’s play Devil’s Advocate.

What are the good ideas we’re discussing?

What specifically should we be doing as a result of our discussions and exchanges?

He recommended that people should not necessarily use these styles in rigid sequence, but to move in and out of them iteratively, as the discussion progressed, or, as sometimes is the case, regressed. Another crucial insight was not to immediately adopt the Black Devil’s Advocate hat too quickly as this often leads to promising new ideas being eliminated before their advantages can be discussed.

Big organizations, such as Du Pont, Federal Express, Seimans, 3M and many others adopted and adapted his ideas into their business practices. Seimans, for example, credited lateral thinking with cutting product development time by 50%. The story of 3M’s development of the Post-It is now a business classic. The company’s culture encouraged a laboratory manager to keep asking the question “does anyone see a use for a glue that doesn’t stick too well?” After a lot of rejection and skepticism, a colleague working in a completely separate division came up with the Post-It idea and the rest, as they say, is history.

We find in our leadership programs that lateral thinking is one of the skills that our most effective leaders regularly use and, even more importantly, they encourage their teams to use them. We also measure a leader’s capacity to use lateral thinking with the Human Synergistics® profiles such as Leadership WorkStyles® and Leadership/Impact®.

Of course, the ability to dream up creative and innovative ideas is not the only competence a leader has to be able to use. There are also the abilities to plan and organize and to motivate individuals and teams to cooperate and deliver the new products and services. But lateral thinking is, in many ways, the key competence leaders need to move their teams into the future.

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