I caught up with long-time friend Max Dumais, founder of the de Bono Institute here in Melbourne, not long ago and he related a story to me that reflects how many Australian leaders think about creativity.

“I was then President of the Lighthouse Foundation for Homeless Kids and our patron was Victor Smorgon. He had just agreed to go guarantor for our bank loan and introduce his bankers at his corporate rate and we were holding an afternoon tea to thank him.

At one stage he asked what I did in real life and I told him I had just been commissioned to set up Edward de Bono’s Institute. His response was interesting, “de Bono, he’s the ideas man. Ideas are a dime a dozen.”

Next time I caught up with Edward I told him the story, just like this. He didn’t miss a beat. “Yes”, he said, “but not good ones!”

For me, this demonstrates how so many people think creative thinking is just about ideas. They of course could not be more wrong. Creativity is the mortar that holds the bricks together to form a complete structure. Creative thinking is needed to generate ideas when useful new ideas are needed; but it is then needed to turn useful ideas into designs, strategies, innovations; and creativity is needed again to successfully implement new products, services, strategies etc.

And it also helps explain why so many managers and leaders have heard of de Bono’s methods, can see their value, and yet don’t apply them very well, if at all. They don’t seem to understand that creative thinking is serious, and cannot be left to chance or for someone else to ‘dream up’. If creative thinking is unfocused and ‘fluffy’ as so many seem to believe it is, there is nothing to hold the structure together and innovation fails to materialize.

I met Edward de Bono in about 1986 after which, as a Senior Manager with 9 managers and 180 staff reporting to me, I started using Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking techniques with my people.  Within a couple of months we could see thinking tools in regular use in all parts of my department, from Finance, to HR, and even by the Facilities engineers.

Over the years I’ve worked or hooked-up with Edward many times, and I’ve have shown de Bono methods to thousands of managers, teachers, workers and students in every type of industry. And yet, I still don’t see them in regular use except in select areas, usually where I’ve spent a lot of time facilitating the learning process. It is one of the greatest frustrations I have, because I know just how useful these methods are.

Which is why I no longer try to simply train people in Edward’s tools. I now understand that showing people even the best techniques is of little value, if they don’t apply them.  So these days I instead focus on showing people HOW TO APPLY these Serious Creativity tools, and then I do everything I can to facilitate their ongoing use.

Edward de Bono’s methods provide an outstanding toolkit of Critical and Creative Thinking techniques.  The challenge for most is that critical thinking requires some discipline and focus, which so few seem willing to commit to.

My upcoming Leadership Victoria programs on Critical & Creative Thinking for Productive Leadership, and Serious Creativity: Applying de Bono Thinking Tools are not simple tools training workshops. Instead we’ll focus on application – yes we need to understand the techniques, but understanding is not enough. Action and application is what is needed, and that is what I’ll focus on.

So ask yourself, are you leaving creativity to chance, or relying on someone else to do it for you, or are you willing to put in some effort to take it seriously?