If were to sit down and say to myself, "I need a new idea here [insert actual need area]," what should I do?
I could do research and try to work out a new idea logically.
I could borrow or steal an idea used by someone else.
I could sit and twiddle my thumbs and hope for inspiration.
I could ask a creative person to produce an idea for me.
I could hastily convene a brainstorming group.
Or I could quietly and systematically apply a deliberate technique of lateral thinking (such as the random word technique), and in 10 to 20 seconds I should have some new ideas.
It is now 25 years since I started working in the field of creative thinking.
It is now time to tidy up and to bring things up to date.
It is time to clarify and restate various techniques that have been borrowed and weakened in the process.
It is time to apply the huge wealth of experience that has accumulated in that time, during which I have taught creative thinking in many countries and across different cultures to business, education, government, and other parts of society.
What has happened over these last 25 years in this important field?
In some ways a lot has happened and in other ways very little.
In 1969 I wrote a book with the title The Mechanism of Mind, in which I described how the nerve networks in the human brain might act as a self-organizing information system.
At that time those ideas were somewhat strange.
Today such ideas are mainstream thinking about the brain and a whole academic discipline has grown up to consider the behavior of self-organizing systems.
One of my more recent books (I Am Right You Are Wrong) has introductions by three Nobel prize physicists. Neural network computers are based on the same principles.
So science has caught up with what was a conceptual model.
A few people, a very few people, now know that there is an absolute mathematical necessity for human creativity because of the way human perception works as a self-organizing information system.
Such systems demand creativity and also provocation.
There is now a great deal more interest in creative thinking than there was 25 years ago.
Almost every major business advertises itself as "the creative corporation."
There is a huge amount of lip service given to the central importance of creativity, but my experience has shown that this lip-service is not accompanied by any serious effort to use creativity.
Over the last ten years business has been involved in three major games.
There was the restructuring game, which included acquisitions, mergers, leveraged buy-outs (LBOs), de-mergers, and so on.
Growth and profitability was going to come from buying growth.
Bankers prospered, as did a few of the new structures.
Then there was cost-cutting, a game that is still running.
If you could cut costs, then your balance sheet looked much better.
Cutting costs is something into which you can get your teeth.
You can see targets and measure achievement.
But there comes a time when all the fat is gone and further cuts remove the muscle.
The latest game has been quality (and customer service).
This is a highly commendable game that should have a great need for creative thinking.
But what happens when you have a lean and competent organization?
What is this lean and competent organization going to do?
What happens when your competitors are just as lean and competent as you and your cost-effectiveness is no longer a unique advantage?
The more able senior executives know that creativity is now the main hope.
Even the economies of Japan and Germany, which have rightly placed so much emphasis on quality and excellence, are now beginning to show great interest in creativity.
Sadly, very few governments around the world have yet come to realize that creative change is just as important to them as it is to business.
There is a huge need for better ways of doing things and for new concepts in government services.
The governments of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Canada are waking up to this need.
Others still feel that cost-cutting is sufficient.
The public should expect more than cost-cutting.
Although it is now beginning to do a little bit about the direct teaching of thinking as a skill, education does very little indeed about teaching creative thinking.
There is the assumption that creativity belongs in the "art" world and is a matter for talent, anyway.
This view is so old-fashioned as to be medieval.
The rest of society is not often called upon actually to make things happen and is satisfied with description and argument.
Nevertheless, there is a growing group of individuals in all areas who have come to realize that the future needs better thinking and that part of this better thinking is going to demand creativity.
There are some very good reasons why we have not yet paid serious enough attention to creativity.
The first and most powerful reason is that every valuable creative idea must always be logical in hindsight.
If an idea were not logical in hindsight then we would have no way of seeing the value of that idea and it would simply be a "crazy" idea.
If every valuable creative idea is indeed logical in hindsight, then it is only natural to suppose, and to claim, that such ideas could have been reached by logic in the first place and that creativity is unnecessary.
This is the main reason why, culturally, we have never paid serious attention to creativity.
I would say that over 95 percent of academics worldwide still hold this view.
Sadly, this view is totally wrong.
In a passive information system (externally organized system), it is perfectly correct to claim that any idea that is logical in hindsight must be accessible to logic in the first place.
But it is not so in an active information system (self-organizing system) in which the asymmetry of patterns means that an idea may be logical and even obvious in hindsight but invisible to logic in the first place.
Unfortunately, this point can be visible only to those who are able to move from the paradigm of externally organized systems to the paradigm of self-organizing systems.
I shall come to this point later in the book.
Most people are unwilling or unable to make that paradigm change and so must, forever, believe in the sufficiency of logic.
Then there are those who believe in the importance and reality of creativity but hold that nothing can be done about it.
Such people believe that creativity is a matter of semi-mystical talent that some people have and others do not have.
Here there is a considerable confusion between artistic creativity (which is often not creative) and the ability to change concepts and perceptions.
There is a parallel belief that new ideas depend on a fortuitous combination of events and circumstance and that such confluences cannot be planned.
The general notion here is that ideas have always happened and will always continue to happen and there is nothing that can be done or need be done, about it.
The only thing to do is to find creative people and to encourage them.
There is a growing number of people who do believe that creative thinking skills can be improved through direct effort and attention.
Here we run into two difficulties.
Because inhibition—the fear of being wrong and the fear of making mistakes—prevents the risk-taking of creativity, there is the belief that removal of inhibitions is enough to make a person creative.
This has become a dominant theme, particularly in North America, and it has held back the development of serious creative thinking methods.
Efforts are made to free a person up so that natural creativity can assert itself.
This does bring about a mild level of creativity but not much.
The brain is not designed to be creative, so liberating the brain from inhibitions does not make it creative.
Releasing the brake on a car does not automatically make you a skilled driver.
I shall return to this point later.
We come now to the considerable damage done by the concept of "brainstorming."
This was a genuine and useful attempt to provide a more relaxed setting in which to generate ideas without immediate fear of rejection.
The intention was admirable and some of the underlying principles are sound.
Unfortunately, brainstorming has become synonymous with deliberate creative effort and has blocked the development of serious creative thinking skills.
Those who want to use deliberate creativity believe that the (weak) processes of brainstorming are enough.
Others who might be motivated to develop creative thinking skills are turned off by the "scatter-gun" approach of brainstorming.
The idea that from a ferment of consideration an idea might emerge which might be useful has a value in the advertising world (where brainstorming originated) but much less value where novelty is not, by itself, a sufficient value.
It is difficult to condemn brainstorming because it has some value and does sometimes produce results; but, in my experience, it is old-fashioned and inefficient.
We can do much better with deliberate systematic techniques.
Nor is there any need for creativity to be a group process as in brainstorming.
An individual can be even more creative on his or her own—with the proper skills.
Instead of brainstorming, I might suggest the concept of "brain-sailing" to suggest a deliberate controlled process in which we change tack as we wish instead of being tossed about in a "storm."
Associated with brainstorming has been the notion that deliberate creative thinking has to be "crazy" or "off-the-wall" in order to be effective.
This notion of craziness is a complete misunderstanding of the nature of creativity and is fostered by those who do not really understand the true nature of provocation.
Because provocation is different from normal experience and because anything "crazy" is also different from normal experience, it is assumed the two are the same.
It has to be said that much of the difficulty is caused by the poor quality of teaching of many who set up to teach creative thinking.
Because creative thinking does not seem to require either logic or experience, anyone can enter the field.
Techniques and processes are borrowed from here and there without a full understanding of their proper use.
The result is an instant "expert" on creative thinking.
Many clients are persuaded that this is the correct approach to creative thinking and many others are put off.
The general result is that creative thinking is devalued and not treated seriously.
It is regarded as something of a peripheral gimmick that might have an occasional success.
For all the sound reasons given here, creativity does not yet have the central place that it should occupy.
In summary, there are those who believe that logic is enough.
There are those who believe that creativity is a matter of talent or chance and that nothing deliberate can be done about it.
There are those who are put off by the "crazy" approaches to deliberate creativity that are available.
I have deliberately included the word "serious" in the title of this book in order to move forward from the "crazy" notions of creativity.
In this book I intend to put forward deliberate and systematic techniques that can be used in a formal manner by both individuals and groups.
These techniques are directly and logically based on the behavior of human perception as a self-organizing pattern-making system.
There is no mystique at all about them.
It was precisely to get away from the vague and mystical notion of creativity that I invented the term "lateral thinking" 25 years ago.
Lateral thinking is specifically concerned with changing concepts and perceptions.
There are those who will be horrified by the notion of "serious" creativity and will see it almost as a contradiction in terms.
To such people creativity means being free to mess around in the hope that somehow a new idea will emerge.
It is true that in order to be creative we must be free of constraints, free of tradition, and free of history.
But that freedom is more effectively obtained by using certain deliberate techniques than just by hoping to be free.
A solid file is a better way of getting out of prison than exhortations to be free.
There are those who believe that systematic and deliberate tools cannot lead to creativity because any structures will immediately limit freedom.
This is nonsense.
There are indeed restricting structures such as railway lines and locked rooms.
But many structures are liberating.
A ladder is a liberating structure that allows you to get to places you would not otherwise have reached.
Yet you are free to choose where to go with your ladder.
A cup or glass is a liberating structure that allows us to drink much more conveniently.
But the cup does not force our choice of drink.
Mathematical notation is a liberating structure that allows us to do many things we would never be able to do otherwise.
So there is nothing contradictory about systematic techniques that free us to develop new concepts and perceptions.
I regard creative thinking (lateral thinking) as a special type of information handling.
It should take its place alongside our other methods of handling information: mathematics, logical analysis, computer simulation, and so on.
There need be no mystique about it.
A person sitting down with the deliberate intention of generating an idea in a certain area and then proceeding to use a lateral thinking technique systematically should represent a normal state of affairs.
In the book I shall be covering the three broad approaches to lateral thinking:
In each area there are methods and techniques that can be learned, practiced, and applied.
The story of Peter Ueberroth and the Los Angeles Olympic Games illustrates how these techniques can be learned and applied.
Peter Ueberroth had first learned about lateral thinking when he was my faculty host when I gave a 90-minute talk to the Young Presidents' Organization in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1975.
Nine years later, according to his interview in the Washington Post; he used lateral thinking to generate the new concepts that made such a success of the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
I want to make it clear that while this book may become a reference book on creative thinking, it has not been my purpose to lay out the principles of "teaching" creative thinking.
That is not something that can be properly done in a book as it requires interactive experience and guidance.
I shall, however, be setting up formal training sessions for those who do want to learn how to teach creative thinking.*
This book is a user's book to help those who want to use creative thinking themselves.
This book is written for three categories of reader.
Those who sense that creativity is going to become more and more important and want to know what can be done about it
Those who have always considered themselves to be creative and want to enhance their creative skill
Those who see no necessity at all for creativity
I am aware that those in the third category are somewhat unlikely to buy the book in the first place.
So their only hope of getting a better understanding of creative thinking is if someone makes them a present of the book in order to indicate what creative thinking is about and why it is important.
At this point I would like to distinguish between two types of creative output.
We usually suppose that creative thinking will turn up a new idea that represents some sort of risk.
Because the idea is new we are not sure if it will work.
There may have to be an investment of time, money, energy, and hassle before the idea pays off.
Many people and most organizations are somewhat reluctant to make this investment in time, money, energy, and hassle, even though they know that such investments are essential in the long run.
But this is only one type of creative output.
There is also a completely different types of idea.
The other type of creative output is an idea that immediately makes sense.
You can see at once that the new idea is going to work and is going to save money or time or offer some other benefit.
Let me illustrate this with a very simple example.
Add up the numbers from 1 to 10.
The task is not difficult and you should get the answer 55.
Now add up the numbers from 1 to 100.
Again the task is not difficult, but it is very tedious and you might well make mistakes.
Now imagine the numbers from 1 to 100 written down in a row as suggested below:
1 2 3 … 98 99 100
Now repeat the numbers from 1 to 100 but write them backwards under the first set of numbers as shown:
1 2 3 98 99 100
100 99 98 3 2 1
If you add up each pair, you will always get 101.
This must be so because as you go along the top number increases by 1 and the bottom number decreases by 1 so the total must stay the same.
So the total is 100 x 101.
This is, of course, twice the total we needed because we have used two sets of numbers from 1 to 100.
So we divide by 2 and get 50 x 101, or 5050.
This method is not only very quick but there is little chance of making an error.
In short, it is a much faster and much better way of adding the numbers 1 to 100.
In hindsight the method is perfectly logical.
In practice very few people work out this method for themselves.
Another approach might be to "fold" the numbers over on themselves to give:
50 49 48 … 3 2 1
51 52 53 98 99 100
This gives 50 x 101, or 5050.
I am making no claims for creativity here because this sort of approach might be obtained by creative thinking or by visualization.
The point I am making is that the new approach is immediately seen to be valuable.
There is no risk involved.
There are times when creative thinking can produce this type of output: an idea that immediately makes sense.
That it is logical in hindsight does not mean that it could have been reached by logic in foresight (as I have mentioned and as we shall again see later).
This is an important point because one of the main purposes for the use of creative thinking is to find better ways of doing things.
It would be quite wrong to assume that creative thinking means only risk.
Creativity also means insight and new perceptions that at once make sense.
The book is divided into three parts:
Part I: The need for creativity
Part II: Techniques and methods
Part III: Application of creative thinking
There is nothing more marvelous than thinking of a new idea.
There is nothing more magnificent than seeing a new idea working.
There is nothing more useful than a new idea that serves your purpose.
See Serious Creativity