Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Square Root of Minus One

This is a book review of Edward De Bono's book 'Po'. It is written by a guy called James Crisp who I know nothing about, but it serves as a good precis of the concepts within the book about lateral thinking, including my favorite, the 'Intermediate Impossible'.

There is part of me that thinks that we have become so obsessed with truth vs fiction nowadays, and reality vs fantasy, that we have forgotten how our brains work, and our innate ability to hold paradoxes and dichotomies quite happily in the same space at the same time. I believe our need for certainty has perhaps stifled our ability to create, to think laterally, and to see things as they really are.

Edward De Bono's ideas are therefore worth airing out so we can all start problem solving more creatively .... again ....

This book was written over 40 years ago. How do we forget so quickly ...?

 Po: Beyond Yes and No by Edward de Bono (Book Review) (James Crisp)

" ..... De Bono is not a big fan of the yes/no system or argument. He proposes that yes/no mindset that people usually use means that somebody has to be right and somebody wrong. With this mindset, an old theory cannot be replaced by a better one until it can be proven wrong by argument. For subjective subjects, this is not often possible. He proposes that when people have a "right" answer, they are happy and stop looking for a better answer, curbing creativity. Similarly, a "wrong" answer stops that train of thought - and perhaps if it had continued, then a good answer might have been found with ideas triggered from the "wrong" answer.
De Bono sets up PO as an alternative to the Yes / No system and talks about it as a way to break down established patterns and introduce discontinuity in thinking to come up with new ideas. He sees it as an alternative to the "clash" of argument and the "arrogance of logic" in the "closed and highly artificial world" of education, that in later life leads to a "need to be right". He says that this "need to be right" then leads to people "defending not the idea, but your self-esteem" and having high resistance to new ideas and change.
De Bono disputes a common idea that by choosing the best answer in a series of questions or steps leads to the optimal solution at the end. He shows several examples where choosing the most optimal answer for each step leads to a solution which is not optimal.
Arguably the most interesting part of the book describes a number of tools for lateral thinking.
PO-1: Intermediate Impossible
Rather than immediately rejecting an impossible idea, look at it longer for good points. Reconsider your framework of judgment and concept package - maybe idea is right if you consider the situation in a different way. The idea can be a stepping stone to a better idea. When other people come up with a "wrong idea" listen longer and see where it can take you. This approach can be used as a tool - turn the "idea upside down, inside out, back to front" and "say the most unlikely and outrageous thing you can about the situation - and see where it gets you".
PO-2: Random Juxtaposition
"When you have exhausted the different ways of looking at the problem from within, you bring in" a random word "in order to generate a fresh approach" through juxtaposition and connecting the words. The random word can be from opening a dictionary at random or from a list of "idea provoking" words.
PO-3: Change without rejection, by-passing old concepts to generate alternatives
"That idea is fine, but let us put it on one side and find a new way of looking at things", "this is one way of looking at things and it is perfectly valid but it does not exclude other ways, so let us try to find some" or "I wonder if there are other ways of looking at this". "Why do we have to look at things that way", lets reconsider our starting point and understanding.
The last part I want to mention is the discussion of retardant doubt. De Bono suggests that with a Yes/No, boolean mindset, you require certainty of being right before acting. If you don't have this certainty, your doubt holds you back. You may even create false certainty so that you can act (leading to problems later since you'll then defend this false certainty). However, in the Po system, there is no certainty. The premise is only that the "current way of looking at things is the best one at the moment, but may need changing very soon". This means you can act without certainty - your action might not be right in the absolute sense, but you are ready to "change it as soon as circumstances demand". With the Po approach you explore a wide range of alternatives, choose the most effective idea for now, but be ready to change it for something even better ....."

8 comments:

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Thanks for sharing... another book to order and read

Mike Panian said...

Cool :)

considerphlebas said...

Cannot recommend enough David Sirlin's series/book Playing to Win. http://www.sirlin.net/ptw/

His expertise is in nominally in competitive video games, but really it expands easily to any competitive endeavor.

anyway, he's generally a proponent of sticking with the best strategy you know, but...

"I think of a game as a topological landscape with lots of hills and peaks that represent different tactics/strategies/characters. The higher the peak, the more effective that strategy is. Over time, players explore this landscape, discover more and more of the hills and peaks, and climb to higher locations on the known hills and peaks. Players can’t really add height to these peaks; they are only exploring what’s there, though that is a rather philosophical distinction. The problem is that when you reach the base of a new peak (say, the rock ball trap peak), it can be very hard to know that the pinnacle isn’t very high. It might be really difficult to climb (lots of nuances to learn to do the trap), but in the end, the effectiveness of the tactic is low compared to the monstrous mountains that are out there. You have reached a local maximum, and would do better to go exploring for new mountains. "

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Yes Sirlin.net has been an interesting source of information fro me too over the years, the article on Yomi, Japanese for knowing the others mind was interesting one amounts others...
http://www.sirlin.net/articles/yomi-layer-3-knowing-the-mind-of-the-opponent.html

Paul McRedmond said...

A cogent argument for ending multiple choice tests that, at best, condition students to guess, taking away the need to KNOW, and, at the worst, that avoidance of failure is the way to knowledge.

Jake said...

Sounds like an excellent book.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Book arrived and started reading... very good....

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Nearly finished the book... As always reading several things at once. A great book summing up many poi.re that were in play. And bringing in others that have been focussed here or by Marc or Rory et al as well as others. A mighty tome.in a slim volume. Well worth the read to anyone that hasnt read it already.
Best