"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
March 27, 2007

De Bono And The Need To Address Sub-Optimality

One of the most challenging aspects of last week’s De Bono seminar was his comments on “sub-optimal” situations. Any system or institution might try to be at its best at any given point in history, given the information at hand. It may even, at certain points, manage to create fairly optimal and perhaps excellent approaches […]

One of the most challenging aspects of last week’s De Bono seminar was his comments on “sub-optimal” situations.

Any system or institution might try to be at its best at any given point in history, given the information at hand. It may even, at certain points, manage to create fairly optimal and perhaps excellent approaches to its problems.

But, over time, it is bound to become susceptible to changing conditions as new situations are faced and the existing information becomes obsolete. It may become sub-optimal without appearing to be broken.

Therein lies the critical issue – we all tend to be hesitant to challenge this that do not appear to be broken, really broken. Given the constraints of time we will often accept and live with sub-optimality; until it is too late.

To some extent this is a consequence of inertia, or laziness. However, the biggest factor is inherent resistance to criticism. “Its not that bad” is a common defensive response to criticism, in families, workplaces and even churches.

So we put up with outdated, ineffective and maybe even toxic systems.

De Bono suggests that part of the solution is to change the language we use, to get beyond argument-based approaches to conversation. The first steps of this involve breaking the connection between challenge and criticism, which many people see as one and the same thing, breeding resistance to both change and strategies designed to soften the blows of change.

Whether we adopt De Bono’s approaches or not, we need to create a language that allows people to challenge sub-optimal situations without breeding fear or defensiveness. Creativity cannot be fostered unless the scope exists to challenge existing approaches and ideas freely, without defensiveness. Unless that happens, no group of people can really take the risk of moving together to look at a problem from a different perspective.

Breaking the nexus between challenge and criticism is crucial to allowing new ideas and approaches to get some traction, to be evaluated on their own merits and if valuable enough, to be implemented.

[tags] Edward De Bono, Creative Thinking [/tags]

Responses
Steve Lowe 16 years ago

Good thought here. Defensiveness is, to some extent I think, a natural response to perceived criticism. Certainly, language used makes a big difference – but just as important is the response to someone’s action, e.g. How is a mistake responded to? This all points to aspects of culture within an organization. It’s easy to say that you can create a culture of movement and change, but if these pieces of language, response, and so on, aren’t congruent with that, the organization won’t suceed in that desire. Additionally, it’s got to come from the top. If leadership ‘walks the talk’, it will go a long way toward staff being less defensive, less fearful of mistakes, and more prone to try new things and step a little further out on that limb.

Paul 16 years ago

thanks fernando… have you, or Edward, or anyone else got any suggestions how we break the nexus between challenge and criticism?

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Steve – thanks for that. I feel like you hit on two massive issues there. The way leadership responds to criticism and the way the organisation as a whole responds to mistakes.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Paul – great question.

De Bono has two approaches that deal directly with that. Tommorrow, I’m going to write a little on the six thinking hats and there is another approach called the six value medals, which I’m going to leave till after my break to comment on.

There’s a few different things I’ve done, practically, but they largely stem from the six hats approach (mixed with a little philosophy of language).

Katie Konrath 16 years ago

Hi Fernando, Great post! I really like how you expanded on Dr de Bono’s ideas.

Perhaps I can help out with the distinction between challenge and criticism. I’m a certified trainer for several of his methods and worked for Dr de Bono last fall.

The difference between challenge and criticism is that challenge is done with a specific focus, while criticism can run unchecked. With challenge, you want to ask why something is done (e.g. keyboards were set-up with qwerty so the typewriters didn’t jam up) then see if the way it is done is still necessary (no, because computers can handle faster typing), and then ask if there are alternative ways to accomplish the same task. (For data-entry into computers, some alternatives are voice-to-text recordings, etc.)

Criticism, however, is usually not focused, and also can become very personal. For that reason, criticism can be much harder for people to accept. Since challenge should also be done for things that are going well (just to make sure that it is still the best option), challenge is not necessarily a statement that there is something wrong.

Hope this helps! Looking forward to reading your other posts.

~Katie

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