Creative Engagement for Resolving Public Disputes

In my last post on Shifting Gears in Public Engagement  I talked about helping groups shift out of “adversarial mode” into “group problem solving mode.” In this post I’d like to talk about a method that can help groups who are ready to solve problems improve their “lateral thinking” in order to identify solutions that satisfy multiple interests and achieve resolution.

           Edward De Bono is a pioneer in enhancing creativity. He coined the phrase "lateral thinking" to refer to the process of stepping to the side of a problem in order to find a way around it.

One of De Bono’s most powerful concepts is that new ideas are produced through mixing and matching ideas that already exist.  In many cases, an accidental combination of existing concepts creates a new way of thinking that is helpful for solving a problem at hand. Think of the Reese’s candy company employee who accidentally spilled peanut butter on his chocolate bar.

            De Bono proposed that we seed this mix and match process with deliberately provocative statements, designed to propel us towards new, out-of-the-box solutions.  To signify intentionally provocative statements De Bono starts them with the word “Po.” Beginning a sentence with “Po…” lets listeners know that the next words out of your mouth aren’t necessary factual, logical, or possible.

The purpose of a “Po” statement is to launch your listeners’ minds to a place they haven’t been before. As your listeners work their way back from “out there” to the current reality they will often discover a wider variety of new solutions for the problem at hand.

I suggest that here at the 2013 International Association for Public Participation North America Conference (#IAP2NA2013) we play with #IAP2.po as a tag for 1) Specific areas where we’d like new ideas and 2) Provocative ideas that may spark solutions for those ideas.