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 ....."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Stack of Boxes

In my other life as a painter, one occasionally gets called out on 'emergency missions', last minute gigs where the phone call goes something like
"Hey, how are you doing? Er .... Can you fly to Vegas tomorrow? Week, maybe 2 of work painting the VIP lounge and some other stuff"

Suffice to say that it was an offer I could not refuse, and off I went - hence the total lack of blog or thoughts about swordplay of late.

Picture a nightclub/music venue/restaurant/bar/bowling alley all decked out in old style carney paraphenalia - freak show banners, gambling signs, a shooting alley bar back, etc etc ..... BUT ...... a week before the soft opening, 2 weeks before the big gala opening, the electricians are still wiring lights, and the carpenters have not even started on building the interior of this VIP room, let alone have areas ready for paint or set dressing.

Add to that the design guy who has been recently brought in because the owners are not happy with the product, but who worked on a previous project with them so they trust him over the first designer, and you have a hierarchy with the owners at the top, then a group of designers who don't really like each other, their assistants, crews of union electricians, carpenters, and plumbers, with their various superintendents, sound crews, LED monitor crews, elevator technicians, all with their various bosses, and then the scenic artists, 3 different crews of us, all working on different projects, hired at different points in the whole, most with limited work days, and you can imagine the chaos, the communications tangle and the fight to prioritize the whole.

We were called in by designer number 2, late in the game to 'fix' all the things the owners did not like, so yeah, we were really popular .....

Anyway, it was a fascinating 2 weeks of watching teams and individuals, all competent but with different needs and more importantly different vocabularies (not languages), and all under stress, work out how to get on with each other, work together 'efficiently' (and I use that term loosely) in the limited time available, to make the place come together.

All the crews working were actually really competent, the lead carpenter for instance was a 40 year journeyman, they were well led and all worked their asses off ... BUT .... they spent most of the time solving problems, because of bad planning, or not being given enough information, or having no contact with the other trades as to their needs, leading to things getting done, then torn out, redone, etc etc

The biggest take home for me was the time wasted through inability to communicate, between the guys with the design ideas and the people making them concrete.

Both sides inability to get across what was important and why, in both the aesthetics of the final result, and the functionality of the space created a chasm where the designers saw the construction guys as obstructive and stupid, and the construction guys saw the designers as not comprehending how things need to be done to function.

Case in point, the designers had sourced out an antique safe door handle and lock that they wanted put on one of the entry doors which was to be painted as though it was a real safe. Sadly, what they had failed to notice when they purchased it, was that it could not be just screwed on the face of the door as the lock was deeper in cross section than the door itself and the handle had no screw holes .... And this came up 4 hours before the grand opening.

Had the designers understood how door handles work, how they are affixed so they don't just tear off in some drunk person's hand as they yank on it, or had they noticed the size of the lock in comparison to the door, everyone could have got what they wanted ... But no.

From the other side, had the construction crew noticed that the mirrors that needed putting up in the paneling had been 'antiqued' by chemically removing some of the mirrored backing to make them look old, they would have realized that any glue used to affix them to the wall would show through these 'wear' spots in the blobs in which it was applied .... And on.

Like Rory wrote in his last post Out of the Box we all pigeon hole people into unrelated skill sets, assuming that those that 'think', can't 'do', and those that 'do', can't 'think'. And there seems to be no common language that runs between them, or many that really 'groks' both sides of the process.

I am curious where this separation of skill sets and assumed limitations to ability started? After all the artisans of old and the guild members of the various trades were considered to be both thinkers and doers.

The first scientists were thought of as 'natural philosophers', builders were mathematicians and skilled artists and plan makers, sculptors understood about structural integrity and materials science, cabinet makers designed and made their products ....

Nowadays it seems that the linking pieces have lost their importance in favor of a more industrialized approach - Your job is to put the widget in the slot, yours is to clamp it down, yours is to place it in a box. No understanding of concept or function is required. (Don't get me started on modern window design again ...)

It's a loss in my opinion.

I reckon designers should be required to make things with their hands, and people in the trades should be required to expand their creativity.

Understand the whole and you exponentially improve your value ... We just need to change the current assumption that thinking is what 'smart' people do and working with your hands is for those that couldn't make the grade.

For further reading may I recommend: "Shop Class as Soul Craft" by Matthew B Crawford