top of page
The use of provocations
(The teaching of creative thinking. Page 5)

In traditional brainstorming or the general teaching of creativity, there is much talk of "delaying judgment," "suspending judgment," "deferring judgment," etc. This arises from the simple observation that instant criticism of an idea can kill the idea and makes creativity virtually impossible. So, if judgment prevents creativity, let us delay judgment.

But delaying judgment is the absence of activity. Telling a person not to use instant judgment does not tell that person what to do. What do you do with a provocation? Do you just suspend judgment and hope that something useful will happen?


Many years ago, I introduced the formal process of "movement." This is an active mental operation. It is not just an absence of judgment any more than a car is just an absence of a bicycle.


There are formal and systematic techniques of movement (extract a principle, moment-to-moment, etc.) which can be learned, practiced and used. These techniques can also be taught directly and formally.

"But delaying judgment is the absence of activity. Telling a person not to use instant judgment does not tell that person what to do. There is a need for the active mental operation of movement."

Judgment is based on traditional "rock logic", but movement is based on the "water logic" of perception. Rock logic is based on identity (is and is not). Water logic is based on "flow" (What does this flow to?).


All these processes can be handled in a deliberate and systematic manner. It is very different from just messing about, being "crazy" and hoping that something will happen.

Traditional brainstorming has always depended on a group format because this is an essential part of the process. The presence of other people in the group provides the stimulation to set off new ideas and new lines of thinking.


All the systematic lateral thinking techniques can be used by an individual entirely on his or her own. This is because the formal techniques of provocation allow an individual to provide his or her own stimulation at will. There is no need to depend on stimulation from others.


In my experience, individuals working systematically on their own produce far more ideas than when they are working together as a group. There is more thinking time and different directions can be pursued.


Groups do have their value both as a motivating setting and also to develop the ideas that have already been started.


In practice I prefer to work with a combination of group and individual creative thinking whenever this is possible.

The "random input" lateral thinking technique is extremely easy to use and very effective. It is now used widely by new product groups, research departments, marketing departments and even by rock groups when writing new songs. At first sight the notion of pulling in a totally random word to open new lines of thinking seems absurd. Yet he technique is soundly based on the behaviour of patterning systems. Finding your way back from the periphery of a town may reveal a road you would never have taken out from the center.


Like many other of my techniques, this simple technique has been borrowed by many practitioners in creativity who usually forget to acknowledge its source. What is more important than acknowledgment is that techniques borrowed in this way are too often distorted or altered in ways that make them far less effective.  This is because the person "borrowing" the technique does not understand its real basis and has had no proper training in the use of the technique.

Another example of a technique that is very simple and effective is the Six Thinking Hats.

Page 5 of 9

bottom of page