Summary and Critique: Serious
OF SERIOUS CREATIVITY:
USING THE POWER OF LATERAL THINKING TO CREATE NEW IDEAS
CONCEPTS: CREATIVITY AND LATERAL THINKING.
central focus of this book is lateral thinking -- the process
by which we change our concepts and perceptions and generate new
ones, thus arriving at usable ideas. Since concepts, perceptions,
and ideas are involved in every activity that requires thinking,
every person -- unless he/she is involved only in repeated automatic
routines -- needs some skill in lateral thinking.
need for creativity. Creative thinking is rapidly growing
in importance; it will soon be as fundamental to business as finance,
raw materials, and personnel. Organizations that are competent
still have great potential, which will remain unfulfilled unless
they can generate powerful new ideas and put them into action.
In fact, as all organizations reach the same plateau of competence,
the next source of competitive advantage will come from better
rise from competition to "sur/petition" (in which a company is
"in a class by itself" because it offers an integrated set of
customer values, as opposed to a line of products or services),
a business will need increasingly powerful conceptual thinking.
But since the mind can only see what it is prepared to see, new
concepts will not come from the analysis of data. That's why an
organization must be able to create new concepts.
creative thinking is just as important for companies still climbing
towards the plateau of competence, because it helps them find
better ways of achieving quality, cutting costs, and continuously
improving every aspect of their operations.
a broader scale, the world's many -- and increasingly difficult
-- social and economic problems will typically not yield to the
simple analytic technique of finding and removing the cause. In
many cases, the cause cannot be removed, and we must "design"
a way forward by creating new concepts. And these can come only
from creative thinking.
and the brain. The human brain is designed not for creativity
but for survival. It is a self-organizing system, excellent at
forming patterns from the world around it and then integrating
new information according to these patterns. That is how perception
works, and if the brain did not work in this way, life would be
key fact about these patterns is that they are not symmetrical:
the path from a dominant, established thought-pattern to a new,
less-obvious one may be very roundabout, but the path from the
non-obvious pattern, once identified, back to the established
one can be quite direct. This is why creative ideas seem so "logical"
in hindsight. And it is why we mistakenly believe that logic alone
can lead us to creative insight.
cannot, for what we perceive as "logic" is powerfully influenced
by the time sequence of our experience, which sets up our concepts
and perceptions, our ways of doing things, and even our structures
and institutions. We may need to break free of this time sequence
in order to make the full use of the locked-up potential of our
do this by "cutting across" our thought patterns -- by moving
directly to the less-obvious ideas that seem so "logical" in hindsight.
We see this process at work in sudden insights, when we make unexpected
connections, or in humor, where a joke leads us to a connection
that we "knew" was there all along. But we can also employ the
deliberate, systematic techniques of lateral thinking to stimulate
the crosscutting and apply it to all kinds of situations.
should now be clear that creativity is not simply a way to make
things better. We need it if we are to make full use of the information
and experience already available to us -- but locked up in old
structures, patterns, concepts, and perceptions.
creativity is not. (1) Mystical. Creativity is not a mysterious
talent that some people have and others can only envy. Lateral
thinking can be learned, practiced, and used by everyone, although,
as with any skill, some will be better at it than others. Learning
lateral thinking will not make everyone a genius, but it will
supplement existing thinking skills with a valuable ability to
generate new ideas.
Release/being "natural." The traditional view that creative
thinking is only a matter of releasing people from inhibitions
and fears is old-fashioned and inadequate. The natural behavior
of the brain is to form patterns and to stick to them; that is
why the brain is so excellent at making sense of the world. So
"release" from fears and inhibitions will give us only a slight
increase in creativity.
effectively creative requires some unnatural mental processes,
such as setting up "provocations" and then moving, in systematic
ways, from provocations to new ideas.
"Crazy." The "crazy" approach to creativity is very superficial
and has held back the seriousness with which creative thinking
should be treated. It is based on insufficient understanding of
what needs to happen in creative thinking.
thinking is not a shotgun approach in which we shoot out ideas
in the hope that one will be useful. We do need to escape the
restrictive effects of judgment, but we can do so in a much more
powerful and deliberate manner using the formal and systematic
techniques of lateral thinking. These can be used by individuals;
groups are not essential, as they are in traditional brainstorming,
which is based on the "crazy" view of creativity.
importance of technique. It's not enough just to have a creative
attitude and then to wait for something to happen. We need systematic
techniques that will produce new ideas.
processes as "challenge," "alternatives," and "provocation" can
all be learned as deliberate techniques which can be applied to
different situations -- problem solving, improvement, opportunity
design, and others. Twenty-five years of experience have shown
that the systematic processes, tools, and techniques of lateral
thinking can be learned and do work.
creativity" in organizations. Because creativity seems such
a good idea, people assume it does not need pushing. But it does,
because people are much more inclined towards problem solving
and information gathering. Creativity needs energizing. It needs
a "process champion" -- a senior person who will fight for it;
otherwise, not much will happen.
creative thinking should be established not only in its own right,
but also to supercharge such ongoing programs as quality, cost-cutting,
and continuous improvement. Some leading organizations, such as
DuPont and Prudential, are already moving along this important
road. "Serious" vs. "superficial" creativity. Today, most organizations
pay lip service to the importance of creativity, in the form of
mainly cosmetic claims in their corporate advertising. Some derive
an unwarranted complacency from the minor creative efforts they
are making. But by and large, creativity is still regarded as
something peripheral and as a luxury. And unfortunately, even
many practitioners of creativity have not advanced beyond believing
that it is enough to encourage people to be "a little bit crazy."
the successful organizations of the future have already begun
to think differently. They know that serious creativity is the
key to unlocking their potential. And they know that there are
principled, structured ways to introduce and use serious creativity
in a serious manner.
TECHNIQUES OF LATERAL THINKING.
SIX THINKING HATS. This is a framework process that applies
to thinking in general within an organization. Each of the fundamental
modes of thinking behavior is symbolized by a hat of a different
color, so that thinking can be switched at will from one mode
to another, and a particular type of thinking can be requested
at any time. Thus, critical (negative) thinking can be made more
productive by restricting its use to the right moment. The Six
Hats provide a concrete framework for moving away from traditional
argumentative/adversarial thinking to the cooperative exploration
of a subject [See Table 2].
CREATIVE PAUSE. A very brief pause, within the mind of the
thinker, to consider whether there might be an alternative way
of doing things -- a willingness to give momentary, creative attention
to any point. In the smooth flow of thinking or discussion, much
is taken for granted. But the creative pause allows the thinker
to linger constructively and thus to let new possibilities emerge.
SIMPLE FOCUS. We normally think only about problems and difficulties
that force us to pay attention. Yet powerful creative results
can be obtained by focusing on matters that everyone else has
ignored. The Simple Focus is a willingness to note a point as
a potential focus for creative effort. There's no need to generate
ideas from these focus-points; just noticing them is sufficient.
CHALLENGE. The creative challenge is one of the most fundamental
processes of lateral thinking. It is not an attack, a criticism,
or an attempt to show why an idea is inadequate. Rather, it is
a challenge to uniqueness. It asks, "Is this the only possible
way?". It assumes that we're doing something in a certain way
for reasons that once existed -- but may no longer be valid. And
it assumes that in all cases, there may be a better way.
creative challenge can be directed either at the matter itself,
at traditional thinking about it, or at the thinking that's taking
place at any moment: "Why do we have to look at it this way?".
It can be directed at the factors that shape our thinking: the
underlying concepts and assumptions, the boundaries, the supposedly
"essential" factors, the avoidance factors, and the either/or
polarizations. The creative challenge enables us to take a direct
look at these factors to decide whether they are really necessary.
can also challenge "continuity" -- i.e., doing something in a
certain way merely because it was done that way yesterday. Specifically,
we can challenge the following kinds of continuity:
no one has bothered to think about the matter;
it has to fit in with other matters, processes, etc.;
repeated success precludes rethinking;
our thinking is limited by the sequence in which our experiences
ALTERNATIVES. The very essence of creativity is the search
for alternatives. But this particular technique of lateral thinking
involves the willingness to stop to look for alternatives -- even
when there is no apparent need to do so, even when the next step
is logical and available -- instead of being satisfied with the
options that exist (in practice, the search must be cut off at
technique also implies the willingness to "design" new alternatives
by changing the situation instead of just being content to analyze
the given situation.
it's important to ask, "Alternatives to what?", "Alternatives
with respect to what fixed point?." The fixed point may be purpose
(so that we seek other ways of achieving the same goal), group
or resemblance, (we seek other ways of classifying the thing under
consideration), or concept (we seek other abstract categories
of which the thing is an example). We can usually define several
fixed points in a situation and then seek alternatives for each
CONCEPTS. Here we try to draw out the abstract concept(s)
underlying any procedure, process, method, or policy, whether
they were designed or not. We can then strengthen or change the
concept -- or find better ideas with which to put the concept
are expressed in broad, "blurry," nonspecific ways. There are
"purpose" concepts, which relate to what we trying to do; "mechanism"
concepts, which describe how an effect is going to be produced;
and "value" concepts, which indicate how something will provide
concept has to be put into action through a specific "idea." The
purpose of working at concept level is to "breed" further ideas.
concepts are created directly. At other times it's useful to "pull
back" from any idea to discover the concept behind it.
THE CONCEPT FAN. This one is particularly useful for "achievement"
thinking, for figuring out "how we get to where we want to be,"
as with problem solving and task completion. The concept fan is
an elaborated way of seeking alternatives by using concepts to
"cascade" further alternatives.
use the Concept Fan, we work backwards -- from the purpose or
objective of our creative thinking, to the "road concepts" or
"directions" that we would have to take to get there. Then we
continue backwards from the directions to the underlying concepts,
which are the ways of moving in that direction. There may be several
layers of concepts, ranging from the broader to the more specific.
We continue backwards from the concepts to the "ideas," which
are practical and specific ways of putting the concepts into action.
Concept Fan can start at any point and then move either forwards
to the purpose of the thinking or backwards to the specific ideas.
PROVOCATION. In any self-organizing information system (such
as perception), it's absolutely essential to have provocation
and movement, in order to cut across patterns. And crosscutting
is necessary because of the asymmetric nature of patterns themselves
-- that is, something that's obvious in hindsight may be invisible
have coined a new word -- "po" (for "Provocative Operation") --
to signal that a statement is intended directly as a provocation,
as a deliberately irrational jump from established patterns of
thinking and experience, e.g., "Po, planes should land upside
down." It's as if we've purposefully jumped onto a mental side-track,
from which we can then find our way back to the main track and
thus open up a whole new avenue of thinking.
provocations. A creative thinker may choose to treat as a
provocation any statement, remark, or event that he/she experiences,
whether or not it was intended as a provocation. An idea that
seems unsound or even ridiculous can nevertheless be a provocation
to move forward to ideas that are useful. Provocations can thus
be said to "arise" without being deliberately set up.
provocations are deliberately set up by the creative thinker,
who seizes upon any point that's "taken for granted" or normal
in the situation and then proceeds to "escape" from this. After
saying "po," he/she may negate the point, cancel it, drop it,
or simply do without it. (Note: the "taken-for-granted" point
must never be a problem, complaint, or difficulty.)
provocations. These are also deliberate ways of setting up
provocations. It is important that the provocations be set up
boldly and without any thought whatsoever as to how they might
be used. There's no point in forming a provocation by simply massaging
an existing idea. The stepping-stone provocations should be set
up mechanically, as follows:
The normal direction of action is reversed to form the what-if
provocation, which now conveys action in the opposite direction.
The normal measurements or dimensions (number, size, weight) are
exaggerated either up or down, but beyond normal (a downward exaggeration
should never reach zero).
The normal relationship between involved parties or the normal
sequence of events is altered in an arbitrary fashion to create
a "distortion," which forms the provocation.
thinking: Here the provocation takes the form of a fantasy
wish: "Wouldn't it be nice if...". The wish must be something
that you do not realistically expect to happen; it should not
be an actual desire or objective.
MOVEMENT. Once we have created a provocation, the next step
is to move forward to the new idea. "Movement" is not just a suspension
of judgment; it is an active mental operation. It can be a general
willingness to move from an established idea to a new one, but
there are also systematic and formal ways of directing the process.
a Principle: We extract one principle, concept, feature, or
aspect from the provocation and ignore the rest. We seek to build
a new idea around this one item.
on the Difference: In what way is the provocation different
from the usual way of doing things? Can we move forward from that
difference to a useful new idea? Even if the difference is tiny,
we still focus on it, in order to defend against the idea-killing
objection, "but that's the same as...".
We visualize the provocation being put into action -- even if
this is impossible in reality. We then watch to see what would
happen "moment to moment." We try to pull out a useful new idea
from our "observation." Positive Aspects: Here we focus on those
aspects of the provocation that are directly positive. We ignore
the rest and seek to build an idea from these. Under What Circumstances:
We look for special circumstances under which the provocation
would offer some direct value, just as it is. We then seek to
move forward to a useful idea, either for those circumstances
or -- more usefully -- for other circumstances as well.
THE RANDOM INPUT. Though it seems totally illogical, this
is one of the most powerful creative techniques, simply because
the brain is so good at forming connections between even the most
unlikely terms. The principle is that starting from a different
point increases the likelihood of opening up patterns different
from those you would have used if you'd started from the "center."
most convenient form of random input is the random word, which
can be obtained in a number of ways (e.g., using the position
of the second hand of a watch to select a word from a list of
60). This word is then used to open up new ideas around the chosen
focus. The process can also work with objects, pictures, readings,
exhibits, and so on -- as long as the input is random.
THE STRATAL. Put together five unconnected statements about
the situation and then see what new idea emerges. Don't try to
make the statements descriptive or comprehensive, or to cover
all aspects. To make the stratal more random, write statements
on slips of paper, which are put into a bag from which five slips
The Filament Technique. We begin with the typical characteristics
of whatever it is we are focusing on. From each of these, we create
a "filament" of associated ideas.
use: the filaments are considered until an idea "emerges"
from the sensitizing process.
(or "forced") use: in each filament, items are picked out,
and a determined effort is made to force these items together
to give a new idea.
TABLE 1: USES OF THE TECHNIQUES
to define the focus and identify changing focuses of the creative
effort; to seek alternative definitions of the focus; choose
to challenge traditional/existing thinking, as well as the thinking
taking place during a creative session; challenge the "surroundings"
of the thinking: assumptions, boundaries, and so on.
to find different ways of doing things and of satisfying a defined
FAN: to find different ways of doing things by working with
abstract underlying concepts. Useful in "achievement" thinking.
to focus deliberate attention on concepts; extract and crystallize
concepts; pull back from ideas to concepts; modify and change
concepts; find ways of putting the concepts into action. Useful
in all areas driven by concepts.
to look at existing methods and thinking. Helpful wherever challenge
is useful, because it turns the challenge into a provocation.
Can be applied to the creative thinking that is taking place
at the moment.
PROVOCATION: to create radical changes in the whole system
or approach. The most provocative of the techniques.
THINKING PROVOCATION: to generate ideas from a greenfield
situation. Generally works best when applied to the whole system.
to provide fresh ideas on any occasion; get underway in greenfield
situations; get started again when ideas have run out; seek
additional and different ideas when there are already some ideas
on the table.
(at the beginning of the thinking) to allow idea to emerge;
(later on) to see what might emerge from the thinking already
TECHNIQUE: useful whenever there is a known set of requirements.
Passive use: to let ideas emerge. Active (or "forced") use:
works somewhat like Random Word.
2: THE SIX HATS
hat: introduce information, factual thinking.
intuition and feeling.
caution and the logical negative; helps put these in their proper
position as a later part of the treatment of the idea, e.g.,
"We don't need the Black Hat just yet."
A key benefit of the Six Hats method is the ability
to restrict Black Hat thinking to certain specific times --
to assess the ideas or to point out the drawbacks to be overcome
-- instead of being negative and critical at every possible
hat: the logical positive; asks for a positive and constructive
view of the emergent idea.
The yellow hat is an effective way to direct
thinking to search for feasibility and values, so that, for
example, an emerging idea can be given constructive attention
at the outset. Someone who opposes the idea might be asked to
try to discover value in the idea and to suggest how it could
be carried out.
hat: creative effort and creative thinking; asks for a specific
creative effort. The green hat is a specific request for a creative
effort but does not indicate how that effort is to be made.
It may be a simple pause in order to consider other possibilities
or an attempt to suggest alternatives. Other lateral thinking
techniques can also be used at this point. The main value of
the green hat is the space it makes for creative effort.
hat: control of the thinking/creative process itself.
At times, a simple sequence of hats might used almost directly
as a creative procedure. In such cases the sequence might be:
Hat: the information base. What do we know?
Hat: alternatives, suggestions, and ideas.
Hat: feasibility, benefits, and values of the idea.
dangers, problems, and points of caution.
Hat: intuition and feelings about the ideas.
Hat: bring closure to session.