Monday, July 30, 2012


The Times of India has an article about Dr. de Bono's book H+, a meditation on happiness, help, health, hope, and humor. Nominally a quasi-religious treatise, it sounds like the sort of easily digestible pop psychology that Alain de Botton has popularized.

But who knows? Dr. de Bono is certainly one of the world's leading thinkers, and scholars have grappled for millenia with commingled questions of religion and philosophy. Perhaps someday the name "Edward of Bono" will be uttered in the same breath as Augustine of Hippo, William of Ockham, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Obstacles to Innovation

This article about obstacles to innovation recently caught my attention. I know nothing about the author or publication, but this particular essay is largely consistent with my understanding the brain's approach to innovation.

For instance, Coker writes that "the first step in innovation is being able to make connections between unrelated things." Edward de Bono would wholeheartedly agree with this statement; in fact, one of his Lateral Thinking techniques, Random Word, is expressly designed to accomplish this. This technique forces a person to concentrate on two unrelated things and try to draw a connection between them.

A classic example is George Ballas' invention of the Weed Eater. One weekend, George needed to mow his lawn. He decided to wash his car first, so he drove to the carwash, but he was still thinking about mowing the lawn. As he was sitting in the carwash, watching the rotating nylon bristles scrub the dirt and grime from his car, his large lawnmowing project was still on his mind. And then, presto! His brain made a connection between spinning nylon bristles and lawnmowing, and the Weed Eater was born.

Coker also writes about the importance of perseverance to innovation. I agree, but not quite the way Coker means. He describes perseverance in execution: "It's important to try many ideas and endure many failures before finding the one that works" and blah blah blah. Yes, yes, that's fine, whatever.

More interesting, I think, is the role of perseverance in idea generation. The idea necessarily precedes its execution - so how many ideas do we need? Is one idea sufficient? Probably not. Maybe five? Ten? A hundred?

Brainstorming five or ten ideas is pretty easy. Coming up with 20 or 50 or 100 is significantly harder, but that's where the best ideas are probably hiding. After all, if the obvious idea were so good, you'd already be doing it, right?

Hence my assertion that perseverance is important. Don't stop when you have three or four ideas; keep going until you have 20 or 30 or 500. That is precisely why Edward de Bono invented Lateral Thinking - to help people think of large numbers of new ideas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Upcoming Six Thinking Hats training

A quick public service announcement: the next public Six Thinking Hats training session is scheduled for the week of September 24th, 2012.

This is part of de Bono Consulting's "Innovation Week" program, with a variety of Edward de Bono's courses on offer:
  • Six Thinking Hats - Tuesday, Sept. 25
  • Lateral Thinking - Wednesday, Sept. 26
  • Course in Creativity - Sept. 25-26 (a combined Six Hats + Lateral Thinking program)
  • Focus on Facilitation - Sept. 25-28
  • Trainer certification  - Sept. 25-28 (in Six Hats, Lateral, or any other Edward de Bono course)
To register for any of these programs, see the Six Hats registration page or call 515.278.1292.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Practical Ways to Become More Creative

In the latest issue of Pacific Standard, Paul Silvia reviews Roberta Ness' new book, Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas.

Full disclosure: I haven't yet read the book, so my impressions are based entirely on Silvia's review. It sounds like a useful (albeit imperfect) contribution the literature, and I look forward to getting hold of a copy.

Many innovation books fall into what I affectionately think of as the Platitude Pitfall: exhorting the reader to be more creative, to think "outside the box," to challenge assumptions and preconceptions, etc., whilst simultaneously providing no guidance whatsoever on just how to go about this. I don't know whether Ness' book falls into the Platitude Pitfall, but I fear that it does.

For example, "Incubate" - one of the six innovation steps in Ness' gimmicky "PIG IN MUD" mnemonic - is not, in fact, a practical or actionable technique for developing new ideas. Instead, it amounts to saying, "Take a break and hope that something will come to you." And sure, this does sometimes happen; we have all had good strike us out of nowhere. But hoping for the best has no place in a formal innovation process.

The same holds true for steps 1 ("Phrase a Question"), 5 ("Meld your Best Idea"), and 6 ("Disseminate"). None of this has anything to do with developing new ideas; they are instead pre-work (i.e., picking a specific topic), or they involve analysis, communication, and consensus-building. I don't object to any of that, but let's be clear: analysis, communication, and consensus-building have nothing to do with innovation. Rather, they take place only after the radical new idea has been conceived.

I look forward to reading "Innovation Generation," and perhaps the book contains some useful nuggets. But I would predict that these methods are inferior to, for instance, Edward de Bono's group of Lateral Thinking innovation tools, which definitely do not fall into the Platitude Pitfall.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2012 Global Innovation Index

The 2012 Global Innovation Index is here! This report, developed jointly by the INSEAD business school and WIPO (a division of the United Nations), creates a league table of innovation and ranks every country in the world.

Before we look at the results, an obligatory word about the methodology. As with any ranking system, one can always take issue with the methodology and the relative weights of different variables. That doubtless holds true here, as well. In this case, the rankings are compiled based on "creative inputs" (which include institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication, and business sophistication) and "creative outputs" (e.g., knowledge/technology). Further explanation of the methodology is available here.

The value of such indices does not lie in the actual results. For example, it's largely irrelevant whether the UK's "correct" placement is third, fifth, or seventh. More importantly, league tables of this sort invite conversation and thinking around trends in innovation. How have the world's top innovators achieved such success? What factors contribute to their innovation efforts, and how can other countries emulate them? Also, what regional trends can we spot? Are there certain factors that hold back a particular region from being more innovative? If so, there may be scope for regional collaboration amongst policymakers, academics, and businesses to jointly overcome these hurdles.

But enough qualifying and footnoting. Who are the world's leading innovators? The top five:
  1. Switzerland
  2. Sweden
  3. Singapore
  4. Finland
  5. United Kingdom
Particularly interesting is the chapter We Are All Content Creators Now: Measuring Creativity and Innovation in the Digital Economy, which describes various models of creativity. Which model best fits your organization? Do the peer organizations in the article offer any lesson for your business