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I was recently re-reading another great book from Edward de Bono, “New Thinking for the New Millennium”, which was published in 1999 and is clearly as just as applicable today as it was 12 years ago. Human nature being what it is, we have a tendency to get lazy in our thinking and, for expediency, process many of our decisions on auto-pilot.

If we want to really make progress in our businesses, and in society generally, we need to take time to think constructively and with genuine creativity. This involves challenging other people’s thinking, and allowing them to challenge ours.

Money is a token of exchange. In the past a fisherman might exchange fish for grain from a farmer. A brothel lady in Nevada could be paid with a chicken. Money was more convenient. You were paid in money and you could then busy something with the money. In the same way there are certain ‘value words’, which act as tokens of value. Instead of having to explain why something will not work or having to show that something might indeed work, you use simple words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’: ‘That is a bad idea’; ‘That is a good idea.’ ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are token words which are accepted as indicating value. Just as a person with too much money can become a spendthrift, so the very existence of these value words means they can be applied rather too easily. They can be applied without any need for justification. It is only if the labels are challenged that justification may be demanded. The immense ease of this sort of judgement makes thinking unnecessary and the outcomes very poor. The applied judgements are just as easily based on emotions as on logic.”

– Edward de Bono (New Thinking for the New Millennium)

Often, the dynamics of corporate life discourage team members from challenging the accepted wisdom or requesting justification. If the boss dismisses something as a ‘bad’ idea, that’s normally as far as it goes. Companies need to be able to get on with the day-to-day job of delivering value to their customers, and repeatedly doing what they know works well (this is known as process, procedure, “best practice”) — so it’s untenable to have staff challenging every decision that’s made.

But could this mean we fall into the trap of stifling real progress? What could we be doing to nurture and reward thinking processes which will challenge the status quo and trigger genuine innovation and creativity?

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