In the Moment

I don’t always have to be right… and neither do you

Julie Sommerfreund

Shocking, right? To anyone who knows me this statement would be shocking but my recent experience working in innovation has fundamentally shifted how I think about problem solving and finding a solution. I have learned that being wrong is valuable too.

As Edward de Bono put it in 1970:

“The purpose of thinking is not to be right but to be effective. Being effective does eventually involve being right but there is a very importance difference between the two. Being right means being right all the time. Being effective means being right only at the end.” — Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking, 1970

Recently, my colleague Daniel Rose read these words to me and I felt a rush of relief. That’s why I wanted to share these words with anyone who is currently working through a complex problem challenge or doing their first innovation project.

You and I don’t always have to be right in order to create something effective and meaningful. Who knew? I certainly had forgotten this was true. Dan came to my aid when I was working through a complex innovation challenge for my research at OCAD University’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program.

This stage is what we innovation designers often encourage our clients to do — explore the unknown and “sit in ambiguity” in order for us to find our path forward. But what does that really mean?

I think Edward de Bono sums this up very nicely and helps us make sense of the type of thinking we are doing in this phase. We are using lateral thinking in this moment and not vertical thinking. This is when it is ok for us all to not be right.

“Vertical thinking involves being right all along. Judgement is exercised at every stage. One is not allowed to take a step that is not right. One is not allowed to accept an arrangement of information that is not right right. Vertical thinking is selection by exclusion. Judgement is the method of exclusion and the negative (‘no’, ‘not’) is the tool of exclusion.” — Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking, 1970

Recently, I shared these quotes with our client team. It helped them understand why it was ok to play with ideas that might seemingly not be right. They seemed to relax into some sense of relief that allowed them to enter into ideation with a permission to not be right.

For many of us vertical thinking is the thinking of logic and what has been engrained in us through our school. I’m originally an environmental scientist and this way of thinking and executing has been native to me throughout my career. When I made the shift to design and innovation I felt another way of thinking released inside of me — lateral thinking.

“In lateral thinking one is not so concerned with the nature of an arrangement of information but with where it can lead one. So instead of judging each arrangement and allowing only those that are valid one suspends judgement until later on. It is not a matter of doing without judgement but of deferring it until later. “ — Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking, 1970

Design experiences often contain moments where we are in the emotional valley of despair. We cannot for the life of us see the thread that will pull us through. That is when lateral thinking becomes most powerful — it’s incredible when you can get there. For our clients it might be their first time going through this journey. Understanding lateral thinking helps us understand why we are putting ourselves through this journey.

“As a process lateral thinking is concerned with change not with proof. The emphasis is shifted from validity of a particular pattern to the usefulness of that pattern in generating new patterns” — Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking, 1970

Recently, I shared these quotes with our client team. It helped them understand why it was ok to play with ideas that might seemingly not be right. They seemed to relax into some sense of relief that allowed them to enter into ideation with a permission to not be right. Ideation is the opportunity to generate new patterns and new ideas for the future of our companies, organizations or society.

So I put this challenge to you — do you always have to be right? How can you let go of being right every step of the way so that you can find new patterns?

This piece was originally posted on medium.com.

Posted in

Comments are closed.