In several of Edward de Bono's works, the following schematic appears.
This picture is designed to show the normal thinking process. By using ordinary thinking, one moves from A to B in a routine fashion and is unable to generate "out of the box" thinking. Next a new schematic is drawn. The idea of this schematic is to illustrate that by using a provocation, the thinker can cut across the normal patterns of his thinking to generate new, creative ideas. All that has to be done is to disturb the normal pattern of thinking. Edward de Bono invented the word PO (meaning provocative operation) to represent an idea or suggestion that can lead to a new pattern of thinking. I have to admit that I like the picture very much in its abstract form. When I draw this in front of groups, people nod and act as if they get it.
As much as I like this picture in its abstract form, when I look at the picture concretely, and try to attach meaning to the symbols, I have to conclude that it is drawn incorrectly. This is best illustrated with an example.
Consider Mr. Jones, who is a door to door vacuum salesman. His starting point, what Edward de Bono would call his purpose focus, is to increase his sales of vacuum cleaners. This would be point A on the schematic. He knows that he sells one vacuum cleaner for every ten people he sees, so he focuses all his thinking on how he can see more people. He considers starting earlier in the day, reducing the time he spends with prospects that don't buy and decreasing his time between customers. He is moving from point A to point B and his thinking is focused only on increasing his sales by seeing more people.
At this point he expresses his frustration to his wife who says wistfully, "Honey, I wish everyone you saw bought ten vacuum cleaners."
Her statement catches him totally by surprise and he realizes that he has been approaching the problem way too narrowly. What if he were to focus on people who buy multiple vacuum cleaners such as hotel chains? Or what if he only called on people who had expressed an interest in his product such as people who had returned a mail solicitation saying they would like a demonstration? Wouldn't his closing ratio go way up? His wife's wistful suggestion is actually an arising provocation (or the PO) that led him to new ideas that are represented by point C.
But this is where I think the graphic falls apart. If point A is "how to sell more vacuum cleaners" and point B is "see more people" then why does the arrow from point C lead back to the path to B? Isn't point B the place where we got stuck in the first place? I suggest that the picture be drawn this way
If you draw it this way you can see that the PO led to a new path that ultimately led to a new ideas. This graphic seems much easier to understand.
The example of Mr. Jones, the vacuum salesperson, may sound overly simplistic, but I don't think it is. From 1985 though about the middle of the next decade, the entire securities industry was dominated by the idea of prospecting through telephone cold calling. Expressions such as "dialing for dollars" and "it a numbers game" were common place. Many people were gripped by the example of the infamous "Cold Call Cowboy" who had generated a million dollars in commissions in only his second year in the business exclusively by cold calling. It was only much later that many in the securities business came to believe that calling people repeatedly at home might cause more damage to firms reputations than the benefit they received from the occasional new account and found better ways (the path to point C) to generate new clients.