Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Challenge, helps you break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating. Challenge is key to innovation because it is based on the assumption that there may be a different way to do something even if there is no apparent problem with the current way of doing it.
Challenge Example: Mel Brown is the purchasing manager for a chemical company. Things seem to be running smoothly, and he is getting good reviews on his work. He sets aside Friday mornings for creative thinking and today he chooses an area focus: building entryways. He decides to challenge current thinking about entryways and lists things that the company takes for granted:
- The company logo will be prominently displayed.
- The ambiance will be welcoming to visitors.
- There is a security guard at each entry point.
- Visitors are required to sign in and receive a badge to enter.
Mr. Brown looks at his list for things to challenge. He chooses the presence of security guards.
Could we cut them without altering anything else? No
Are there an alternative to having security guards? Yes
- Require all visitors to register online with the person they are scheduled to meet. That person verifies the visitor and gives them a code that is good for the scheduled time and date only. The visitor is instructed to bring this code and enter it at a locked door in order to enter. Security guards are no longer needed.
- Create an entry lounge something like a hotel lounge. Guests are guided into this lounge via signage and find a bank of telephones or computers with instructions to contact the person they’re meeting and announce their arrival. That employee vets his or her visitor and buzzes them through a locked entry. Refreshments and amusements are provided in the lounge for those visitors who cannot immediately reach their contact.
Mr. Brown decides to explore the first idea further. He makes plans to discuss it with the facilities managers at their next meeting.
One of the difficulties of accomplishing innovation is being successful. That’s because we are so focused on solving problems that we ignore things that are going well. The saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” blocks many opportunities for innovation.
Ways of doing things are only one topic for Challenge. You can also challenge objects, parts of situations, and the current assumptions and beliefs that are controlling our thinking.
The steps of the Challenge process are cued by three phrases: Why/C, Why/B, and Why/A.
- Why/C asks if something can simply be Cut or omitted.
- Why/B asks why something is the way it is. Because why?
- Why/A prompts a search for Alternatives.
Challenge seems to mystify some users, while it becomes a powerful tool in the hands of others. When you use Challenge successfully, you can create major breakthroughs.