Focusing on problem-solving can lead to complacency

Sep 29 2009 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

What is the difference between complacency and satisfaction? Is it wrong to be satisfied? Is it wrong to be complacent? Both satisfaction and complacency might have been achieved as a result of hard work and good planning. Should there not be satisfaction about this success?

The answer is that there should be satisfaction. So what is wrong with complacency?

Too many people believe that thinking is only for solving problems. When there is a problem, you focus upon that problem and think your way to a solution. When things are going smoothly and there are no problems, people are fooled into believing there is no need to think. So they are lulled into a state of complacency.

Improvement and opportunities often arise when there is no actual need to do any thinking, but someone decides to use some thinking. This is, of course, the opposite of complacency.

Sometimes there is a sort of hidden belief that all possible ideas in a field or type of business will already have been thought of by someone. If they are not still around, then the ideas must have been failures. This is a rather negative type of thinking, but it serves complacency very well.

There was a time when few people travelled. Those who did travel were well off and could afford porters to carry their luggage. Then more people started to travel and they could not all afford porters. Even then, it took about one hundred years for the idea of putting wheels on luggage to emerge.

Today almost every piece of luggage has wheels and is wheeled around at airports and train stations. Why did it take so long for this simple and very effective idea to emerge?

There are many areas waiting for new ideas to emerge. Such ideas will not emerge unless someone actually makes the effort to find them. Continuity does not produce new ideas.

Most executives believe that their role is continuity and problem solving. Their role is to keep things going competently and to solve problems as they arise. They do not see it as their role to think of new ideas.

Some ideas do occur by chance, but you cannot really just sit and wait for a chance. There is a belief that some people are creative and others can only envy them. This may be true for artistic creativity, but it is definitely not true for idea creativity. The skill of deliberate creative thinking can be taught, learned, practised and used.

Even when a new idea is not used directly, it opens up new perspectives and new ways of looking at things. The new idea will remain at the back of the mind ready to combine with new information or a new experience. Ideas are never wasted, even when not used at once.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono (1933-2021) was a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.