Po (Lateral Thinking): From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary

Do you need to create more innovative and original ideas? If so, you need to know about Edward De Bono's proposal. It's called po and it's a provocation-based technique that unleashes creativity to the max.
Po (Lateral Thinking): From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 02 May, 2023

Among all the creativity strategies available to us, one stands out for its originality. It’s called po. It’s also known as lateral thinking. This tool requires going beyond ordinary mental patterns and making use of the provocative. It also involves using nonsense or reasoning outside of logic. In fact, from here, some of the most innovative creations appear.

It was the psychologist, physician, and inventor, Edward De Bono who introduced this technique in the 1970s. He described it as thinking that starts from a challenging statement or proposition. It pushes the mind toward new assumptions and proposals. As such, it’s a springboard that leads from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

-Edward De Bono-

man with light bulb applying thinking Think Po
Thinking provocatively requires starting from a hypothesis that’s often devoid of logic.

Po, the second creativity strategy

David Lynch, in his book Catching the Big Fish (2016), claimed that ideas are like fish. Therefore, if you want to achieve a unique one, you must dive into the depths of your mental universe. On the other hand, Edward De Bono opted for the challenge of counteracting the established and constantly asking: “And why not?” .

It was in 1972 when De Bono published his book Po: A Device for Successful Thinking, that he coined this interesting concept. Po is a lateral thinking technique. It involves deriving original and innovative ideas from an impossible or incorrect statement. Furthermore, it claims that surrealism or stupidity stimulates the mind.

The purpose of po

Edward De Bono taught his creativity methods in a wide variety of contexts such as schools, universities, and private organizations. He considered that humanity should be able to create more innovative solutions to complex problems.

Among the many creativity techniques available, po is one of the most outstanding. It’s integrated into lateral thinking. Po configures what’s known as the second strategy of creativity. It implies that, in this process, you apply cognitive and executive functions that go beyond logic or deduction. They require that you transcend obvious and traditional reasoning. In fact, you start with more provocative proposals.

This way of creativity breaks with the classic vertical logic. It favors the possibility of playing with new options and processing reality in a more original and fun way. Indeed, humor is also a form of challenge and mental inspiration.

Applying the second strategy of creativity

There are no conclusive studies on the effectiveness of po. Moreover, many critics warn that it’s a pseudoscientific concept. However, there are some interesting works on the subject. For example, a study conducted by Kebangsaan University (Malaysia) highlights the importance of lateral thinking for facilitating problem-solving.

Po is nourished by this type of reasoning. It can be applied in different scenarios. For instance:

  • On a personal level. It allows problem-solving through challenges and humor.
  • For companies. It generates innovative ideas and makes the organization more competitive.
  • For schools. It favors students’ critical and innovative thinking. In addition, it allows them to boost their brain development.
  • Adaptation to complex scenarios. In the opinion of Edward De Bono, this type of thinking represents support for the progress of the world.

“Creativity is a great motivator because it makes people interested in what they are doing. Creativity gives hope that there can be a worthwhile idea. Creativity gives the possibility of some kind of achievement to everyone. Creativity makes life more fun and more interesting.”

-Edward De Bono-

yellow dice applying Think Po thinking
Taking certain concepts of reality for granted vetoes the creative mind. We must be more provocative when thinking.

Applying the provocative creativity strategy

When creating his creativity strategy, Edward De Bono was inspired by the term po. This word originates from the Maori language. It means starting from a chaotic and formless state that gradually leads to evolution and progress. For this purpose, a series of resources are applied. They allow the achievement of extremely innovative and original ideas.

For example, imagine that you own a construction company and want to create something different when it comes to houses. Let’s take a look at the steps you should follow to apply po correctly.

1. Provocative hypothesis

In 2015, the University of Texas conducted a study that highlighted the need to offer a series of heuristics and innovation tools, with the aim of developing more innovative thinking. In these situations, po is key. It starts with a provocative hypothesis.

To produce a different idea, you should consider a meaningless and, apparently, irrational statement. For instance, in this case, “houses have no roofs.”

2. Investment: adding more ideas

Provocative ideas give us original starting points that encourage creative thinking. You must create reasoning related to the starting point. Humor is always a good ally in this process. Here are some examples:

  • Houses have no roofs.
  • Houses are transparent.
  • Houses can fly.
  • Houses can go to the moon
  • From my house, I can touch the stars.

3. The consequences of the provocative statement

What kind of conclusion does this delusional game of ideas lead you to? To answer, reflect, but don’t lose your provocative perspective yet. Because po is a creativity strategy that seeks to produce ideas that are different from the established kinds. This means that you mustn’t lose your proactivity when it comes to shaping the kind of reasoning that defies logic.

What conclusions can you draw from the proposed statements? You can conclude that houses aren’t closed structures, but have contact with the outside. Moreover, they can bring us closer to the sky and even the stars.

4. Sensible formulation: how to make the idea work

After brainstorming these provocative and almost irrational ideas, you must apply logic and objectivity. What do you deduce from them? And what practical applicability could they have? Po pushes you through a series of meaningless ideas. At the last minute, they mature into something original, rational, concrete, and practical.

In this scenario, the final idea would be: You can create rooms in houses with glass roofs so that their inhabitants can see the stars at night.

You might be interested to read De Graaf and His Five Levels of Creativity

Great ideas can come out of chaos and provocation

Currently, Edward De Bono remains the best reference figure for understanding and employing creativity. That said, his strategy, based on the generation of ideas that stray from logic and even rationality, is both original and complicated. Indeed, we’re more used to vertical thinking that starts from already existing concepts. This means it’s difficult for us to take the step forward to po thinking.

However, it never hurts to try. But, going beyond the ordinary to achieve the extraordinary requires courage and a certain amount of provocation. Why not be daring and give it a try?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Arsad, N., Sanusi, H., Majid, R. A., Ali, M. M., & Husain, H. (2012). Lateral Thinking through Black Box Experiment among Engineering Students. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences60, 14–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.09.340
  • De Bono. Edward (1969). The Mechanism of Mind (1969).The New Functional Word.
  • De Bono, Edward (1972). Po: A Device for Successful Thinking (1972).
  • De Bono, Edward (1973). Po: Beyond Yes and No (1973).
  • De Bono, Edward (2013) El pensamiento lateral: manual de creatividad. Paidós.
  • Ness R. B. (2015). Promoting innovative thinking. American journal of public health105 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S114–S118. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302365

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.