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William Gordon and George Prince: Synectics

Creativity is all about having brilliant new ideas.

Go on… Have one now.

Creative ideas don’t just come to us when we want them. The whole process is mysterious, and cannot be called up on demand. Or can it?

Yes, it can. Or so said William Gordon and George Prince. If you know how to, you can find creative solutions when you need them. And their research into the creative process led them to a methodology still used today: Synectics.

George Prince & William Gordon: Synectics
George Prince & William Gordon

William Gordon

William (Bill) Gordon was born in 1919.He attended the University of Pennsylvania, but it is not clear whether he graduated. Between 1950 and 1960, Gordon led the Invention Design Group at consulting firm Arthur D Little & Co. He was, himself, a prolific inventor, with numerous patents to his name.

Synectics had its origins just after the Second World War. Gordon started studying how individuals and groups act creatively. This became more intensive and systematic, leading to him forming the Invention Design Group within Arthur D Little. There, he helped set up synectics groups within several client companies.

It was while leading this team, that Gordon met future Synectics co-founder, George Prince. With two further colleagues, they left Arthur D Little in 1960 to found Synectics Inc. There they pursued further research, developing and selling their model for how to run a creative process.

Also in that year, Gordon wrote ‘Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity‘.

However, Gordon did not remain at Synectics Inc for long. He left to found Synectics Education Systems, to promote problem‑solving and education based on the use of metaphor.

Gordon died in 2003.

George Prince

George Prince was born in 1918 and grew up in New York State. He attended college at Phillips Exeter Academy and Williams College, graduating in Geology. The second World War saw him serving as a junior officer in the US Navy, in the North Atlantic.

Upon his return, Prince joined an advertising company in Rochester, where he rose to VP. He then learned of the work of Arthur D Little’s Invention Design Group, led by William Gordon. He joined the Arthur D Little company in the 1950s to be a part of that group.

In 1960, he, Gordon and two other colleagues left Arthur D Little to found Synectics Inc (now Synecticsworld). This company researched, developed and promoted their creative problem-solving methodology, Synectics.

Prince remained with the company for most of his, life, as Chairman. In 1970, he wrote ‘The Practice of Creativity‘, which remains in print. He died in 2009.

Synectics

Synectics is a rich methodology for solving problems creatively. However, the principles are easy to grasp:

  • look for alien concepts and things that seem irrelevant, and join them together.
  • Embrace emotions over intellect, and the irrational over the rational.

In applying these principles, Gordon and Prince assumed that the creative process can be described and then taught to others. They also believed that their process, Synectics, will apply widely to different domains of endeavour and can be used by groups and individuals.

They start with a cycling between the ‘operational world’ of routines and procedures, and the ‘innovation world’ of speculation and experimentation. New solutions become more available as we move out of the reality of the operational world, and increasingly embrace fantasy, metaphor, and absurdity.

The process they articulate is at its simplest:

  1. Articulate the task.
  2. Explore options, generating radical ideas that they called ‘Springboards’.
  3. Select the best idea.  Synectics presumes a preference for newness over feasibility at this stage.
  4. Develop that idea, and how it might work in practice.
  5. Put forward your possible solution.

There is a fuller description of the Synectics Problem Solving Process in an earlier article.

Two ideas stick with me from my learning about Synectics many years ago

The first one is the use of ‘How to…’

I love the way Synectics reframes every problem as ‘how to…’ I like it because it presupposes a solution exists and therefor the problem becomes finding it.

And once a selected idea emerges, the emphasis becomes intensely practical. We work on ‘how to make it work’. We constantly articulate the challenges and problems of implementation as ‘how to…’ Each time we solve this, we can modify the trial solution until, with no further issues, we have a possible solution, worthy of putting to the test in the real world.

The second is ‘In and Out Thinking’

Often, when we are in a meeting  particularly a long one that is trying to solve a problem, our minds wander. We have ideas and thoughts that come from ‘inside’, as well as from the meeting: ‘outside’.

We can make best use of these by dividing our notebook page in two – I like to draw a vertical line. On one side, make notes about what you hear or see in the meeting – the Outside thinking. On the other, note down ideas that come from your own thoughts – the Inside thinking. Often these will be connections or distinctions, but sometimes they are seemingly random thoughts. Seemingly, because they are almost certainly triggered by something, but to you, they seem irrelevant, because you are not aware of the link.

Often, these are your Eureka moments.

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Teresa Amabile: Progress Principle

The history of academic study of workplace motivation is full of simple accounts of what motivates us, from the ‘Hawthorne Effect‘ through the ‘Hierarchy of Needs‘ and McClelland’sthree needs‘ to ‘Self Determination Theory‘. Teresa Amabile has added a new, starkly simple account of what managers can do to motivate your people. And it is supported by a huge research base.

Teresa Amabile
Teresa Amabile

 Short Biography

Teresa Amabile was born in 1950 and went Canisius College in western New York State, to study Chemistry. After graduating in 1972, she shifted direction and enrolled at Stanford University to take an MA in psychology, and stayed on to defend her PhD thesis in 1977.

She returned to the East coast to take up an academic post as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Brandeis, where she stayed until 1994, having become a full professor in 1990. There, she became an authority on creativity.

Her 1983 book, The Social Psychology of Creativity, republished in 1996 as Creativity in Context, is considered a classic research text for serious students. It reviews a wide and complex topic. Some of her own findings are most easily accessible in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, called How to Kill Creativity, which is well-worth reading.

In 1995, she moved to Harvard to become the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration, a chair she continues to hold emerita.  There, Amabile opened up a second, related front in her research, looking at motivation, mood, and our inner life, at work.

This led her to the research which gave her the prominence she enjoys today, and is fully covered in her 2011 book, ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work‘, which she co-wrote with her husband, the psychologist Steven Kramer.

Creativity

Teresa Amabile sees creativity arising out of three components:

  1. Expertise, or knowledge in all its forms
  2. Motivation to solve a problem. Self-motivation (or ‘intrinsic‘ motivation) is far more important than external (‘extrinsic‘) motivation, which can even stifle creativity.
  3. Creative-thinking skills. Amabile asserts there is a capability here and she describes it in terms of flexibility, imagination and perseverance.
Teresa Amabile - Three Components of Creativity
Teresa Amabile – Three Components of Creativity

Managers can influence the development and deployment of these three components, and in her HBR article, Amabile lists six ways.

  1. Challenge
    Managers need to provide tasks that challenge and stretch their employees, rather than allowing them to remain in their comfort zone. Notice how this relates to Csikszentmihalyi’s conditions for Flow.
  2. Freedom
    People thrive best when they are able to work independently on their assignments. This reflects one of the three components of Self Determination Theory: Autonomy.
  3. Resources
    We know constraints help creativity and time pressure boosts it too. But these are likely to do so by also increasing intrinsic motivation. Amabile finds that, without sufficient time and material resources, creativity is held back.
  4. Work-group Features
    Managers can create the local conditions for creativity by encouraging enthusiasm, mutual support and, vitally, a respect among team members for each others’ diverse abilities and contributions.
  5. Supervisory Encouragement
    In a finding that is mirrored by Amabile’s more recent work on inner work-life and motivation, she concludes that managers who encourage and praise team members get more creativity out of them. (Shock horror!)
  6. Organisational Support
    She argues that this goes further. A culture of creativity needs full-on organisational support behind that of the team’s immediate managers. People need to feel their creativity is valued and will open up opportunities.

The Progress Principle

Amabile’s most recent work into our ‘inner worklife‘ has caught the attention of the business press. Her findings show a complete conflict between what people think motivates them at work, and what actually leaves them feeling satisfied at the end of the day.

In questionnaires, Amabile found a very low self-assessment of the importance of making progress in overall mood and job satisfaction. But when she carefully analysed thousands of personal journal entries, she discovered that a sense of having made progress during the day offered the single greatest positive correlation to feeling good at the end of the day. And setbacks in work likewise had an adverse effect on end-of-the-day mood.

I can’t help thinking that David McClelland would hardly have been surprised that this is true of the people he described as having a high ‘Need for Achievement’. But Amabile showed that this applies to almost everyone. And this makes progress a very powerful and equally simple lever of motivation.

And… it is one that managers can easily manipulate. As a project manager, I have always advocated the use of more, rather than fewer, milestones on my projects. Each milestone is a point of recognition of progress. As a manager, you can set more progress indicators for your teams, and expect them to feel better about their work than if they had long periods between conspicuous successes.

There is far more to Amabile’s research than this. But she is an eloquent and clear speaker, so take a look at her describing the Progress Principle, in a 2011 TEDx talk, in Atlanta…

Teresa Amabile at TEDx

Here is Amabile speaking about the progress principle at TEDx, in 2011.

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Tony Buzan: Mind Mapping

The title of Tony Buzan’s first book, mirroring his BBC television series, set a manifesto for the work he has pursued vigorously for over 40 years. If there is one thing that Tony Buzan enjoins us all to do, it is to Use Your Head. And he has become one of the very foremost articulators of a toolset to help us. One of his tools, the Mind Map, is now a part of our culture.

Tony Buzan
Tony Buzan

Short Biography

Tony Buzan was born in 1942, in North London. There, he grew up until, in 1954, the family moved to Canada, and he continued his youth in Vancouver. He attended the University of British Columbia, where he took a double first in Psychology, English, Maths and General Sciences. He went on to study for a masters degree at Simon Fraser University, completing his studies in 1966.

From there he returned to England. After a spell as a teacher, he became editor of The International Journal of MENSA (1969-71), and continued a project to develop his understanding of how we can use our minds to best effect. He had already developed techniques that gave him a prodigious memory and an astonishing reading speed.

In 1973, he worked with the BBC to present a ten part series called Use your Head. The spin off book, of the same name was an instant best-seller, quickly going into the first of many reprints. The current (2010) edition of Use Your Head remains a best-seller, but looks very different to my 1982 reprint. This doubtless reflects the huge developments in brain science, and the evolution of Buzan’s thinking. Title aside, this is not the same book!

What has followed is a series of books that must number nearly a hundred by now (no, I haven’t counted), along with constant rounds of speaking and instructing, often with some of the largest and most prestigious companies and institutions. Whilst Buzan’s writing and thinking roams widely over the whole range of learning skills and mental disciplines, there are three topics to which he constantly returns:

  • speed reading
  • memory
  • mind mapping

Of these, Mind Mapping has a special place. He has written far more about this than anything else, and it is with this technique that his name is virtually synonymous. Indeed, he holds the trademark for the term ‘Mind Map’ in a number of jurisdictions. In more recent years, he has seized the initiative in a crowded market for mind mapping software, creating his own software implementation of the tool he popularised.

Mind Mapping

Whilst Buzan refined and popularised Mind Maps, the underlying idea of a concept map is old. There are many variants in use, with differing layouts and approaches, from Work Breakdown Structures to Fishbone Diagrams.

In developing his guidelines for producing Mind Maps, Buzan tried to tap into as many modes of thinking as he could, using the best knowledge of how our brains process information, that was available in the early 1970s.

His Mind Mapping approach combines words, images, colour, shapes, spacial organisation, symbols, size cues, sequencing, positional cues and logic. They are therefore a rich representation of a connected set of ideas, which can help our thinking in many ways:

  • Pattern forming to create connections and insights
  • Ordering and organising ideas, to build linkages and distinctions
  • Learning through making connections and seeing relationships
  • Enhancing memory by tying together multiple visual and spatial modes
    (and linking these to the kinaesthetics of drawing the mind map, for the creator)
  • Harnessing creativity through finding surprising connections
  • Powerful information storage because note-taking becomes non-linear and multi-modal

Mind maps come in all sorts of shapes and sizes…

Mind Maps
Mind Maps come in all shapes and sizes

How to Create a Mind Map

There are many prescriptions for a creating a Mind Map. Here is my approach

  1. Choose the largest available piece of blank paper and some really nice pens and pencils
    The perfect shape paper is a square, but if you use an oblong sheet, start with it in landscape orientation. Feeling good about the quality of the paper and pens will help you savour the process and a blank sheet imposes nothing on your own thought process.
  2. Start with a central image depicting your theme or topic. An image can be much more powerful than words, especially if colourful, witty and bold. If you choose to use words, make these colourful, witty and bold, with interesting, 3D lettering. Use images, symbols and doodles throughout.
  3. From the central theme, draw big branches to the main associated ideas or sub-themes. It is the associations you make and the structuring that you choose that are most important: not the ones from your source. Your source may think differently to you. For the main branches, make them thicker than the lesser branches you will draw later. Curves and colour can add interest and impact. Label these lines with key words and little pictures
  4. From the main branches, split off smaller sub-branches to capture subsidiary ideas and divisions of the subject. Use different fonts and sizes to indicate importance – perhaps UPPER CASE for main branches and lower case for smaller ones. Use colour to group ideas and colour or size can denote importance . Highlighters and boxes can add powerful emphasis, as can pictures and symbols.

Mind Mapping Software

There is an astonishing array of software tools available, for computers, tablets and mobile devices. iMindMap is Buzan’s own, with prices ranging from free to very expensive. Some integrate well with other applications, some stand alone. Some are basic and follow Buzan’s guidelines closely, others are quirky. Some offer exceptionally rich graphics, others have little more than basic symbols and lines. You pays your money (or not – some are free to try, even to use) and you makes your choice.

Mind Mapping Books

There are a huge array and many by Buzan himself, either alone or in collaboration. Two to highlight are:

The Power of a Mind to Map: Tony Buzan at TEDxSquareMile

As you know, here at Pocketblog, we are big TED fans. Here’s Tony Buzan…

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Eddie Obeng: All Change!

Possibly the first business book I read as a new publication was an innovative take on project management. The book had a charismatic style, much like that of its author. Its title is emblematic of the focus of Eddie Obeng’s career.

Eddie Obeng

Short Biography

Eddie Obeng was born in Ghana in 1959, and grew up in Britain, attending a boarding school in Surrey. He  earned a BSc in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at University College London in 1980, and stayed on to take a PhD in Biochemical Engineering.

From there, he went to work as a scientist at Shell from 1983-5 and then to March as a consultant. During his time there, he took an MBA at the Cass Business School. This allowed him to move to the Ashridge Business School in 1987, first as an Assistant Director of Studies, and then, from 1990, as an Executive Director.

In 1994, he left to found Pentacle, an independent business school, which he still runs actively. He is also a visiting professor at Henley Business School and was awarded the prestigious Sir Monty Finniston Award by the Association for Project Management, in 2011, for his contributions to the study and practice of project management.

Obeng is the author of many books, most of which are self-published or out of print. However, All Change!: The Project Leader’s Secret Handbook (1995) is still available and I highly recommend it

Obeng’s Ideas

At the core of Obeng’s thinking is change. He has articulated this simply, by comparing the ‘old world’ with the ‘new world’.

Old World
We learn faster than our environment changes, so our learning equips us well, to cope. Stores of knowledge and experience are applicable and the learned thrive. We can build stores of best practice and we can afford long cycle times in developing new products and services.

New World
Our environment changes faster than we can learn, so our knowledge and experience are always out of date. Constant learning and adaptation is our only way of maintaining success. We need to find ways to develop and test new ideas rapidly and be prepared to honour ‘smart failure’.

Does this remind you of the Growth Mindset ideas of Carol Dweck? It does me.

Consequently, Obeng’s teaching is based around five disciplines we need if we are to succeed in the New World:

  1. Inventing the Future – Innovation
  2. Delivering the Future – project management
  3. Delivering Today – operational management
  4. Leading Organised Talent – leadership and team management
  5. Ensuring Results – sustaining change

All of this tracks back well to the central idea that attracted me to Obeng’s writing in the mid-1990s: that there are different sorts of change, which require different styles of leadership and different balances of capabilities and styles among team members.

These he describes as:

Going on a Quest

Goals and objectives of the change are clear, but you’ll need to figure out how to achieve them. You will need to think carefully about your resources, lead with confidence and commitment, and sell the benefits effectively. You need to stack your team with problem solvers and sleeves-rolled-up doers.

Walking in a Fog

Neither where you are likely to end up, nor the route you will take are clear. You need to move forward carefully and deliberately, one step at a time. You’ll also need to constantly reassure team members with praise for their contributions. You’ll need plenty of problem solvers and also caring people who can create strong team cohesion in the face of uncertainty.

Making a Movie

You understand the processes of change, but are open to discovering where the changes will take you. Consequently, professionalism and expertise are your your tools to ensure that the outcome will be right for your organisation. You need plenty of experts around you, who can follow processes correctly and innovate when needed.

Painting by Numbers

The clearest form of change is where the end result is evident and the means to get there are familiar. Excellence will come from precision and accuracy so it is vital to avoid the threat of complacency. As well as knowledge and skill, your team needs people who can monitor, review, and evaluate well.

This framework is now familiar to many project managers. We often learn project management as if every project is like Painting by Numbers, but it isn’t. My experience was very much with Going on a Quest projects, for example. The rise in Agile Project Management, from the mid-1990s is very much a response to this dynamic – particularly to Making a Movie and Walking in a Fog type projects.

Obeng’s charismatic style is not to everyone’s taste (see the video below), but his ideas are often stimulating and easy to grasp. At their best, they are also valuable aids to thinking about the world of work in the twenty first century.

Eddie Obeng at TED: Smart failure for a fast-changing world

[ted id=1580]

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Jane ni Dhulchaointigh: Make, mend, modify… play

I have to declare an interest: I love the product that Jane ni Dhulchaointigh invented. It’s fabulous.

There are some things that most of us have around the house. We can’t imagine not having them, yet they were invented in our lifetime, or that of our parents: cellotape, duct tape, blu-tak, superglue, velcro, post its. The next generation will almost certainly include in that list one more: Sugru. That’s what Jane ni Dhulchaointigh invented.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh

Very Short Biography

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh (pronounced Jane nee Gull-queen-tig) grew up in Eire, in Kilkenny and studied fine art. She then did a master’s degree in design at the Royal College of Art, graduating in 2004. It was there that, in 2003, she first discovered the material that was, through much research and development, to become Sugru.

She presented a prototype of the material – along with sketchbooks full of uses for it – as her final year project. I don’t know how well it was marked, but she passed and, more important, visitors to the degree show wanted to know how much it cost, and where they could buy it.

ni Dhulchaointigh knew she was onto something.

Now Sugru is a rapidly growing brand that delights its customers and has a loyal following of makers, creators and hackers (in the sense of bodgers trying to make things better) around the world.

Five Lessons to Learn from Jane ni Dhulchaointigh

Sugru is a relatively new business and ni Dhulchaointigh is not a highly public figure (see the depth of the biography I have managed to assemble!) But from what I have read of her story, there are five valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, business people, and managers in general.

If you want to know more of the story of the creation and development of Sugru, the best place to look is on the company website. I have drawn these lessons from various interviews published on the web.

Lesson 1: Be Prepared to Learn

Or: ‘It’s only chemistry’. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh is a designer and sculptor by training and inclination. Creating a new silicone based product and getting it right requires a lot of chemistry. With her business partner, they hired two experienced (then recently retired) silicone chemists, but I like her attitude. Over the years of development, she was determined to learn, so she could contribute to, question, and understand the science. This puts me in mind of the Growth Mindset ideas of Carol Dweck, which this blog covered a couple of months ago.

Lesson 2: Have a Vision

Once Jane ni Dhulchaointigh had the idea for what use to put Sugru to, she was away. In guiding the chemists, she had a clear vision of what her end product needed to be like. She describes it with five words: colour, pleasure, safe, stick, magic. I’ve used Sugru and that’s five ticks. Which brings us to…

Lesson 3: Take your Time

The development process for the final product took many years. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh says she is glad it did. It meant that the product was good, and that she and her team understood it thoroughly. This was no rush job. But the question remained how to get it to market. For this, she is indebted to the advice of a friend. When she failed to secure big funding from a major corporate, she followed the advice and decided to…

Lesson 4: Start small and make it good

Her first commercial batch of Sugru got coverage in Wired, Boing Boing, and the Daily Telegraph, who all gave it rave reviews. She sold out of the 1,000 packs online in 6 hours.

Lesson 5: Be prepared to take risks

Nothing about Jane ni Dhulchaointigh strikes me as a compulsive risk taker, but she describes the whole development process as a series of risks. By taking a cautious, careful approach to risks, and holding tight to a clear vision she believes in, ni Dhulchaointigh has made those risks pay.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh in her own words

There are a few videos of Jane ni Dhulchaointigh speaking about Sugru’s creation story. Ths is my favourite.

Fun fact for the pub quiz: Sugru is an Anglicised spelling of Irish word Sugradh, meaning ‘play’.

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Frederick Herzberg: KITA versus Enrichment

Frederick Herzberg was a clinical psychologist who saw a gap in the research on workplace psychology and filled it with his convictions about what gives people a sense of wellbeing. This places him amongst other great humanistic psychologists, from Maslow to McGregor. His work was widely influential and his keystone Harvard Business Review article, ‘One More Time: How do you motivate employees?’ remains one of the most widely read of that publication’s reprints.

Frederick Herzberg

Short Biography

Frederick Herzberg was born in Massachusetts in 1923 and grew up in New York, where he attended the City College of New York, initially studying history. Incidentally, Maslow also attended City College. Although he loved history, he found the way it was taught too impersonal and overly-focused on events, so he transferred to psychology. But before he completed his course, he enlisted in the US Army, where he served with distinction as an infantry sergeant. He was among the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp which must have affected him profoundly, not least because he was a Jew whose family had come to the US as emigrants from Lithuania.

After the war, he returned to New York to complete his degree and went on to earn a masters degree and a PhD at the University of Pittsburg. In the mid-1950s, Herzberg worked at the US Public Health Service where he started to become interested in workplace psychology. After surveying all of the existing literature and finding it wanting, he conducted his own research, interviewing over 200 engineers. This work led, in 1959, to his first book, with Bernard Mausner and Barbara B. Snyderman, Motivation to Work. He followed this with his 1966 book, Work and the Nature of Man, in which he extends the same ideas in a more philosophical direction, adopting the metaphor of the characters Adam and Abraham from the Bible.

Herzberg’s earlier academic work was done at Case Western Reserve University, from where he moved to the University of Utah in 1972. He remained there up to his retirement. He died in January 2000.

Herzberg’s Contribution

Our earlier post, What Motivates your Team Members?, summarises Herzberg’s Hygeine and Motivation theory. He discovered that the things that leave us dissatisfied at work are different from those which satisfy us. Fixing the dissatisfiers (or ‘hygiene factors’) will only stop us being grumpy. Other things motivate us positively and Herzberg argued that employers should stop trying to use the granting and withholding of hygiene factors (which he colourfully described in his HBR article as giving employees a Kick in the Ass – KITA) and start working on the positive, aspirational motivators that enrich our lives. He was an early advocate of engaging employees and bringing the best out of them.

Indeed, Herzberg catalogued what he saw as essential in bringing out creativity and innovation from your team:

  1. intelligence
  2. expertise
  3. an unconventional viewpoint
  4. effectiveness in ambiguity
  5. self awareness
  6. separating motivation from hygiene factors
  7. controlling anxiety
  8. suppressing over-concern for advancement
  9. accessing intuition
  10. passion

Ultimately, Herzberg had an individualistic view of workplace success, ascribing more significance to personal talents and attitudes than to team efforts. He drew a balance between the attitudes and talents that eschewed simplistic egalitarianism, in favour of offering primacy to individuals with more relevant knowledge and expertise. But he also wanted to create a balance between a focus on data and fact on the one hand, with passion and experience on the other.

He taught us, as much or more than anyone else, that the simple approach of carrot and stick brings little more than ‘okay’ performance out of people. It is virtuous behaviours that enrich a workplace, which create great results.

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Edward de Bono: Thinking

I have already declared my interest as a fan of Edward de Bono in the 2012 blog: The Fertile Mind of Edward de Bono, which I followed up with Six times Four: More de Bono. Now it is time for a slightly wider survey of the work of the man who introduced the term ‘lateral thinking’ and who has been trying to teach business people, governments, student and their teachers to think for nearly half a century.

Edward de Bono

Short Biography

Edward de Bono was born in Malta in 1933, the second of four sons of a doctor father and journalist mother, and was an exceptionally bright pupil at his Malta boarding school. He was three years younger than his class-mates when he got his degree in medicine from Malta University and went off to study psychology and physiology at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he also earned a DPhil in medicine. This was followed by slew of further degrees and academic appointments, that leave him, technically, Dr Dr Dr Dr (Dr) de Bono. I may have mis-counted and I have bracketed his first qualification as a medical doctor, as that was not an academic doctorate. I think we can conclude that Edward de Bono is both intelligent and academically motivated.

In 1967, he published the first of his popular books on thinking, the now out of print The Use of Lateral Thinking. This book introduced the world to his idea of ‘lateral thinking’ – a term that de Bono coined. His books now number around 60, of which the current most popular are:

De Bono has also created online thinking skills programmes and the CoRT (Cognitive Research Trust) programme for teaching thinking to school-age children.

De Bono’s Contribution to Managers and Business Professionals

I think this is where de Bono has clearly been at his best and least controversial. Many of his techniques and training programmes have provided business people, public service managers and other professionals with practical and helpful tools to enhance their critical thinking and creative thinking skills. Like any creative powerhouse, de Bono has produced easily as many ideas that have not gained widespread use as he has lasting ideas. But we should judge him on the latter.

Lateral Thinking

This term is now so widely used that de Bono’s original meaning has been largely subsumed into the wider context of ‘creative thinking’. By ‘Lateral Thinking’, I believe de Bono originally meant perceiving the world in different ways, so that your thinking about a problem can pursue lateral branches, rather than following the main route that is obvious to it. It therefore means looking for new starting points for addressing a problem – an implicit assumption that existing patterns of thought rarely solve new problems effectively.

Provocation

A central theme of a lot of de Bono’s books on creative thinking is the idea that provocative assertions stimulate lateral jumps in our thinking. De Bono crystallised this idea in his (now out of print) book Po: Beyond Yes and No. By analysing the provocation (or ‘Po’), we can reach new and possibly fruitful insights.

PMI Analysis

Another key theme of de Bono’s work, including Po, is that the dichotomies of yes versus no, or right versus wrong, or good versus bad, lead us into linear thinking that is poor at identifying new ideas or thinking in a rich and subtle way. Arguably de Bono’s single most powerful tool is PMI analysis, which can get you over that problem.

It takes its inspiration from Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis approach (which, incidentally, leads directly to SWOT Analysis). But instead of looking at the driving and restraining forces, or the strengths and weakness alone, PMI analysis asks us to look at the Pluses, the Minuses and the things that are Interesting about a situation, option or challenge. This third dimension opens your mind to the subtleties and to new ideas.

Six Thinking Hats

We covered this idea more fully in an earlier blog, but the essence of the concept is simple: that there are different ways to think and that we will solve problems more effectively and make more robust decisions, when we apply multiple modes of thinking, rather than a single, favourite style. The six thinking hats represent six modes: analytical, risk-averse, constructive, imaginative, emotional, and procedural thinking (white, black, yellow, green, red and blue hats respectively).

Controversies

De Bono’s work is not without its critics – even his ‘mainstream’ contributions. Many cognitive scientists have critiqued the lack of evidence base for the efficacy of his methods and programmes – which matters deeply where the teaching of children is concerned, as for his CoRt programme. However, I am not qualified to assess these arguments. It does seem to me that there is a dichotomy here between the theoretical/academic assessment and the practical/utilitarian usage. His ideas as an addition to other training and teaching make a useful contribution to thinking skills for many people. There is plenty of testimony to support that assertion, even if the rigorous evidence base is lacking.

So, as with so much else in the world of management ideas, the proof is in the practical application: take de Bono’s ideas out for a test drive, and decide whether they are for you. If they help you: use them. If they do not: consign them to the bookshelf, and take them to the charity shop, next time you are passing. Maybe, if you donate one of de Bono’s books that I don’t own, I may well buy it!

 

 

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Walt Disney: Vision and Dreams

It’s Christmas in two days (from publication of this blog). So who could be a more appropriate management thinker than…

Walt Disney was perhaps the most visionary business leader of the twentieth century. He grew a simple cartoon character into a vast empire, which sells one thing: dreams

Walt DisneyBrief Biography

Walter Elias Disney was born in 1901, in Chicago, but he grew up on a farm in Missouri. From the earliest age, he was constantly sketching.When the family returned to Chicago while Disney was in his teens, he focused his education on drawing, and studied art in the evenings.

During the First World War, Disney was keen to serve, but failed to demonstrate that he was old enough. Instead, he joined the Red Cross and, at the close of the war, drove ambulances in France. After the war, he had several attempts to create a career from cartooning, and taught himself to make animated films  quickly discovering that painted transparent cels gave better effects than cut-outs. After one failed business (that failed by paying its animators more than he could sell the films for) he moved to Hollywood and, with his brother Roy, set up Disney Brothers Studio.

He continued to innovate technically, basing his technique on his earlier discovery and artistically, inventing his stand-out character creation Mickey (originally Mortimer) Mouse who featured in the world’s first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, in 1928. The next innovation was to use Technicolour for cartoons, with the Silly Symphonies series, but the big hit was when Disney placed $2 million at hazard – a huge amount in the middle of The Great Depression – by making the first ever full length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This won an oscar for the Best Picture (actually, one oscar and seven mini oscars – another first) and labelled Disney as a creative genius. More animated movies followed, all now seen as classics: Dumbo, Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Then came the war and a series of animated propaganda movies that it is hard – if not impossible – to find copies of.

After the war, the stream of feature movies resumed, but Disney also turned his attention to a new vision: theme parks. First came the Disneyland Theme Park in Anaheim, California, followed by Disney World in Florida, opened in 1971, five years after Disney’s death in 1966.

Lessons for Managers

By all accounts, Disney was a flawed manager at best, frequently leaving contributions unacknowledged and imposing arbitrary rules without exception. Not all his rules were arbitrary, however – the injunction against swearing upheld the wholesome brand image, and not all were without exception – Disney did not impose his rule against facial hair for men upon himself.

What we can learn are 5 valuable lessons.

1. Vision means Vision

We all too often read or hear a company’s vision statement. All to rarely do they have any sense of vision: of visual impact. Disney constantly used imagery to illustrate what he could see, to help others to see it too. Famously, Roy Disney commented that, on the completion of Disney World, Walt Disney had already seen it when he died, even though it was far from completion.

2. Vision is nothing without Drive

Visionary he may have been, but Disney also had the determination, tenacity, and at times ruthlessness to make his vision a reality. It is also worth mentioning how uncompromising he was in ruthlessly demanding the very best work from his artistic staff.

3. Less is More

It seems an odd comment to make of the man who invented feature length cartoons, but the sheer amount of ideas that Disney abandoned in every one of the films he personally oversaw was staggering. In modern times, they would have filled a box set of DVD extras. And much of it was extremely good – just not good enough for Disney.

4. Protect the Brand Values

Everything Disney did – and much of what it still does – is to protect his vision of what the Disney brand means: dreams. Where modern managers and artistic directors have strayed, huge rows have ensued. As the father of a young girl, the power of Disney to evoke wonder seems to me to be as great today as it ever was.

5. Creativity is Hard Work

Disney and his teams worked hard at being creative. It was a constant struggle of ideas, discussions and culling of anything less than the very best. And then more ideas, more discussion and more culling. Disney the dreamer was half of a split personality. The other half was Disney the critic.

If you are interested in Creativity, you might like:

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Susan Cain: Introvert

Susan Cain took the world by [quiet] storm at the start of 2012, with the publication of her her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. It won many plaudits and quickly became (and remains in autumn 2014) an international best-seller. In it are some gems that can transform the world of managerial and professional work radically.

Susan Cain

Brief Biography

Susan Cain (formerly Devenyi) was born in New York, in 1968 and grew up loving reading.  So it seems little surprise that she took a degree in English at Princeton. She followed this with Harvard Law School, where she graduated with a doctoral degree in 1993. This led her to practise corporate law on Wall Street in the firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, representing blue chip corporations.

She put her commercial experience to use in co-founding the Downing Street Group, a strategic research and consulting firm, and founding The Negotiation Company. In the latter, she was making good use not only of her experience as a practising attorney, but also of having studied negotiation intensively while at Harvard Law School, with Roger Fisher, author of the seminal book on the subject, Getting to Yes.

But she wanted (needed?) a quieter life, so took seven years to write and research her best-selling book. Now, ironically, she has become a major public figure, much in demand as a speaker (her TED talk, which you can watch below, is one of their most watched ever with approaching 10 million views).

More recently, she has also established ‘The Quiet Revolution’. In her 2014 TED talk (not yet available online) she announced three objectives:

  1. Transforming office architecture to make offices once again a place where extroverts can flourish and where everyone can gain some solitude and quiet thinking time (‘hurrah!’ he says from his quiet office).
  2. Helping companies train the next generation of quiet leaders. A lot of her book is about the strengths of introverts and the power of quiet reflection to deliver better leadership.
  3. Empowering quiet children. Creating the tools that will allow schools to give introverted children the same opportunities to thrive as extroverts.

What is Introversion?

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Cain describes shyness as: ‘the fear of social disapproval or humiliation’. Introversion, on the other hand, is a preference for quiet, low stimulation environments. Introverts like to have time to themselves, to be with their thoughts.

Compare introverts with the opposite end of the scale: extroverts. Extroverts crave stimulation; especially from social situations. Note, however, that neither you nor I are either an introvert or an extrovert. We all lie somewhere on the scale from a arbitrary archetype of introversion to an equivalent extreme of extroversion. And, in the middle, lie ambiverts. These are people who are equally comfortable in stimulating social environments and in quiet private spaces.

Here is Cain’s description of the two types:

‘Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.’

Cain describes introverts living in a world that puts a premium on extroversion as being like ‘second class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent’.

Introverts are compelled to spend a lot of their time in ways that they would prefer to avoid, and therefore find it hard to be at their most creative and productive.

Creativity and Solitude

Cain’s research has led her to conclude that most creative people are introverts. The short video, below Cain’s TED talk at the foot of this blog, shows just how true this is of author, John Irving. His description of himself in the first half is clearly one of an introvert and has great similarities with Cain’s description of herself at a young age.

She goes further. Solitude, she asserts, is vital for the creative process. At the end of her TED talk, whilst acknowledging the value of collaboration, she says: ‘Let’s stop the madness of constant group work.’

In the book, she cites studies that show that performance diminishes as group size increases: bigger groups generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to smaller groups. She quotes organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham as saying that  ‘evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups.’  Her conclusion is stark:

‘If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.’

Transforming Office Architecture

This extends to the way we organise offices. I recall hating open plan offices, and it seems I am far from alone. Research in many industries all points in the same direction. Open-plan offices reduce productivity,  impair memory, and increase staff turnover. Ironically, they diminish the quality of communication, decreasing motivation, increasing hostility and stress, and leading to more sickness and absence.

What is the solution if you are stuck in an open plan office? Mine has always been to seek refuge when I need to think: in meeting rooms, in foyers (ironically – in fact they tend to be fairly isolating) and in coffee shops.


Susan Cain setting out a summary of quiet in an astonishing TED talk in 2012.

[ted id=1377]

And here is author John Irving speaking of himself in very similar terms.

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: In the Flow

 

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157522642?secret_token=s-AyoyF” params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]Pronounciation: Me-high Chick-sent-me-high-ee

 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a US psychologist at forefront of the field of positive psychology; the study of human strengths and how we can have a happy, flourishing life.

His research into flow states has made a famous figure among specialists and interested general readers alike, with several books including his two best-sellers: Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

Brief Biography

Csikszentmihalyi was born to a Hungarian family in a city long disputed by Hungary, Italy and Croatia – now called Rijeka and part of Croatia; it was, at the time of his birth in 1934 a part of Italy, named Fiume. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 22, and got a BA and PhD from the University of Chicago, going on to become a a professor and chairman of the Department of Psychology. He is the founder and a co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center – a non-profit research institute that studies positive psychology.

Flow, in a Nutshell

Csikszentmihalyi’s signature research was into Flow States – those states of mind when we are totally absorbed in an activity, and can therefore want nothing else in the world, at that time, than to continue uninterrupted. He describes these Flow States as the optimum states for a human being, and catalogues the three conditions under which they arise:

  1. The task has a clear and worthwhile goal
  2. The task is sufficiently challenging to stretch us to our limits (and maybe a little beyond) but not so challenging for us that we find ourselves anxious and hyper-alert for failure
  3. The task offers constant feedback on our progress and performance levels

For more details on Flow, see our earlier blog: Flow and Performance Management.

Contribution to Management Thinking

It would be easy to write a long blog about Csikszentmihalyi’s contributions to positive psychology, but from a management perspective, I want to focus on his work on creativity, in documented in his book: Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

In the book, he relates interviews with over 90 creative people from many fields of the arts, sciences and humanities. From those, he distils a great many lessons. For me, one of the simplest is most valuable, his five steps to creativity:

  1. Preparation
    Becoming immersed in a problem that is interesting and arouses curiosity.
  2. Incubation
    Ideas churn around at an unconsciousness level.
  3. Insight
    The “Aha!” moment when the answers you reach unconsciously emerge into consciousness.
  4. Evaluation
    Evaluating the insight to test if it is valuable and worth pursuing.
  5. Elaboration
    Translating the insight into a workable solution – Edison’s ’99 per cent perspiration’.

This to me explains why we seem to get our best ideas when out walking, sipping a coffee, or in a shower. These are not the times when we solve our problems: they are the times when our conscious mind is sufficiently unoccupied to notice the answers that our unconscious has developed.

What does this mean for managers?

If you want creative thinking from your team, I think it tells us four things:

  1. You need to give people time to understand and research the problem, making it as interesting and relevant to them as you can.
  2. You need to let people go away and mull, allowing a reasonable period for ideas to incubate.
  3. You need to bring people back together with no distractions and pressures, so that the ideas can naturally emerge.
  4. You need to create separate stages of your process for evaluating the solutions and then for implemental thinking, when you hone the preferred solution into a workable plan.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at TED

Here is an excellent video from 2004 of the man himself…

[ted id=366]

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