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From Knowing to Doing

“There are three basic aspects of thinking: 1. what is; 2. what may be; and 3. what can be. We are almost totally obsessed with ‘what is.’ We underestimate the extremely valuable contribution that ‘what may be’ has made to progress. We do very little about ‘what can be’ even though our future depends entirely on this aspect.” ~ Edward de Bono.

Edward de Bono is considered to be the guru of creative thinking; over the next few minutes (or words) I will not try to convince you that creative thinking is essential for entrepreneurship— I think it goes without saying. What I will try to do is see how creative thinking affects entrepreneurship and how we can develop it further.

Most scholars believe that creativity is a natural trait— some people are simply born more creative than others. However, like any other skills, it can be honed and polished, just like playing musical scales for hours will improve your musical hearing.

One can define creativity as an influx of ideas over a period of time. The higher the influx, the more creative the person is. De Bono distinguished between two methods of creative thinking: lateral and parallel. Lateral thinking is the one that creates ideas, while parallel thinking develops them. De Bono used to say that you can’t dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper, which means concentrating on one idea more won’t result in a new idea. You simply have to move the hole.

As business owners, how can we develop our creative thinking in regards to our products and services? Here are several tips:

Rejecting Criticism—No matter how absurd the idea might sound, as long as there is no defined tangible idea, it’s possible to stray to areas that might not seem connected.

Inverse—Turning the idea upside-down or changing the natural order of things will give us a different view on the idea and might lead the way to newer and better ideas.

Reduction—Remove an essential component (or components) from a product or service and try to find the benefits in the product without them.

Multiplication—Add an already existing component, but tweak it and see how it affects the product or the service. It’s a way to come up with a new product or service altogether and a way to upgrade a current product.

Unification—Take an existing product/service and assign it with a completely different role to it. This will break the rigid way we think about certain items.

Adding Dimension—Creating links between different variables, products or services.

The idea behind of all these methods is to break our natural thinking process that tends to go back to familiarity. We must experience new ideas by purposely breaking the mold and going away from known notions. This way we can achieve a more creative thinking process that strays from the known to the unknown.

Entrepreneurs must force themselves to think creatively, since innovation goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship. As you’ve seen, creative thinking is not just about creating products and services. You don’t have to be an inventor, but finding a different use for an existing product and developing it into something completely different is what entrepreneurship is all about. Even the late Steve Jobs got the ideas for the mouse and object programming during a visit to Xerox. To stress the importance of acting upon ideas and executing them, I’ll end the same way I began this piece—with a de Bono quote: “In education we are concerned with literacy and numeracy. That leaves out the most important aspect of all, which I call ‘operacy.’ The skills of action are every bit as important as the skills of knowing. We neglect them completely and turn out students who have little to contribute to society.”

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