On creativity and the sources of \”new ideas\”


\"\"A few years ago, I ran a cross a little book called The Use of Lateral Thinking by Edward DeBono.  I\’d like to share some of Professor DeBono\’s thinking on creativity and the sources of \”new ideas.\”

DeBono was a Maltese educator and thinker.  He has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and has had faculty appointments at Oxford, Harvard, and Cambridge. He has consulted for academic institutions, governments, and corporations worldwide on educational theory and learning.  He has written 25 books on cognition, which have been translated 20 languages.

DeBono is given credit for the concept of lateral thinking, a tool used to create fresh ideas.  He claims that most ideas come from vertical or logical thinking, which may produce \”an answer\” but is likely to be inadequate in the face of new and complex \”real world\” problems.  Really fresh \”new ideas\” won\’t emerge from logical thinking.

\"\"DeBono uses the image of digging holes to describe the quest for new ideas.  He says you can\’t find the answers to new problems by using old ideas. Sometimes you have to dig in a new place.

DeBono writes:

\”It is not possible to dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.\”

If we need new and creative solutions to emerging real world problems, it is unlikely that we will find them in our text books, classrooms, libraries, or even the scientific journal articles….. the ideas that we have \”dug out of the old holes.\”  An example of a new idea is the \”communiversity\” that I wrote about some years ago, and turned out to be just another new hole that was ignored by the university.  So why are new ideas so difficult to take seriously?

DeBono writes,

\”…it is easier to go on digging in the same hole than to start all over again in a new place.\”

University research and education programs are really good at digging in places that have proved successful in the past.  Institutions are designed to be conservative and giving up the old holes is difficult.  DeBono continues…

\”The disinclination to abandon a half-dug hole is partly a reluctance to abandon the investment of effort that has already gone into the hole. It is far easier to go on doing the same thing rather than wonder what else to do.\”

\"\"DeBono says that it is easier to follow along the path of current understanding, present knowledge, old ideas when he writes….

\”…no sooner are two thoughts strung together than there is a direction, and it becomes easier to string further thoughts along in the same direction, than to change your thinking.\”

DeBono paints the unglamourous picture of scientists digging away at old holes, exploring old ideas, when he writes…

\”by far the greatest amount of scientific effort is directed towards the logical enlargement of some accepted hole. Many are the minds scratching feebly away or gouging out great chunks according to their capacity. Yet great new ideas and great scientific advances have often come about through people ignoring the hole that is in progress and starting a new one.\”

DeBono explains that the process of education is designed to make people appreciate the holes that have been dug for them by their teachers, supervisors, or elders.  And enlarging the hole that has already been started, offers an opportunity for progress and the promise of rapid advancement within the academy.

Our education and evaluation systems encourage us to jump down into the hole with our teachers (the experts) and dig along side of them. This is how we achieve recognition and advancement, we join the experts.

\"\"DeBono offers the following observation about experts:

\”An expert is an expert because he understands the present hole better than anyone else.\”


\”Experts are usually to be found happily at the bottom of the deepest holes.\”

In our university system diggers are rewarded, even if they are at the bottom of out-dated holes, ones that were appropriate last year, or the last decade.

\"\"If college and university educators are to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, we\’ve got to climb out of the old holes and have a look around.   DeBono encourages us to dig new holes in more original places. He says we never will see a better hole from the bottom of the one we are currently in.

\"\"New ideas abound, but we  will need to look outside of our own professional organizations, our own academic departments, our university culture to see them.

We need to broaden our horizons, first by listening more carefully to what our students are talking about and then perhaps by reading an internet newspaper, or create a customized RSS feed for those topics that interest you.  If you are new to this, perhaps just follow World.edu on Twitter, or \”like\” us on Facebook.  We all need to open ourselves to creative thought from many places if we want to be relevant in the future.

The social networking world seems intimidating (and foolish) at times, but it can really open our eyes if we are willing to wade in!   I believe this web portal is a wonderful way for global educators to stay linked to some of the freshest new ideas in sustainability and higher education.  I called for such linkage when I first wrote about the communiversity in 1997.  The updated version of my essay adds some specifics about the technologies predicted in the late 90\’s.  But its not too late!  Why not \”get linked?\”

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