ZenStorming

Where Science Meets Muse

Does the Concept of Evolution Hinder Creativity?-Edward de Bono’s Thoughts

Posted by Plish on January 7, 2009

Edward de Bono, author of Six Thinking Hats, has a website chocked full of mind stimulating messages and information.  A wonderful thread that runs through de Bono’s work is the notion of simplicity.  You’ve heard it here as well.  Simplicity is a hallmark and goal of creativity/innovation.

Anyway,  while perusing his site recently I came across the following:

The concept of evolution has done a lot of damage to society. There are several component parts to the concept.

1. Spontaneous changes arise from time to time and grow into useful alternatives.

The danger here is that we just sit back in the belief that new ideas have always arisen ‘from time to time’ and therefore there is nothing we can do about it. And nothing we need to do about it. On the contrary, deliberate and formal creativity can produce powerful effects and we do not simply have to sit back and wait for ‘spontaneous’ changes.

2. That entities continuously grow and progress so what we have today is the evolved perfection of ages. We also believe that these things (democracy etc.) will get better and better.

This belief is totally contrary to the behaviour of self-organising systems which reach a state of ‘local equilibrium’ from which it is very difficult to budge them. There is no continued improvement. Many of today’s institutions are so obviously in such a bogged down state of local equilibrium and are crying out for change. Instead we have complacency and self-satisfaction.

3. The notion od ‘survival of the fittest’ suggests that what has survived and is now in use is necessarily the best from amongst part alternatives.

Again this does not follow at all. There may be a temporary set of circumstances, and influences, which favour one alternative. This alternative develops and a better alternative is neglected. At the beginning of the century electric cars were better than petrol driven cars but there were no constituents to drive that design. There were no ecologists at the time.

‘Evolution’ is one of those background myths and metaphors which control our thinking. In this case evolution gives rise to tremendous complacency with things that could be much improved. After a talk to Ingwe Coal in South Africa, earlier this year, the senior engineer said that as a result of the seminar, they had just come up with a new way of cutting coal – the first new way in eighty years.

Edward de Bono nmt
27th November 1999
London

 I tend to agree with what he’s written here.  What are your thoughts  on de Bono’s thoughts?

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2 Responses to “Does the Concept of Evolution Hinder Creativity?-Edward de Bono’s Thoughts”

  1. Matt said

    Personally (and speaking as an educator), I find the ‘six thinking hats’ to be a grossly over-rated concept that really accomplishes little to nothing other than boring both educators and students alike into a comatose state.

    His views on the Theory of Evolution seem to be ill informed to say the least.

    The danger here is that we just sit back in the belief that new ideas have always arisen ‘from time to time’ and therefore there is nothing we can do about it.

    Changes come about in biological organisms because of changed environmental conditions (to put it very simply). To say ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’ is absurd. Genetic changes happen all the time and throwbacks to our ancestors can be seen in modern day humans (hiccups, goosebumps, remnants of third eyelid, etc). To claim this is a reason to sit back and do nothing is just intellectual laziness since there is no reason at all in the Theory of Evolution which states we just have to sit back and wait.

    That entities continuously grow and progress so what we have today is the evolved perfection of ages. We also believe that these things (democracy etc.) will get better and better.

    The Theory of Evolution says nothing about things reaching any sort of ‘perfection’. It merely states that things will adapt and change to better suit changing environmental conditions.
    Look at humans, for example, our very jaw structure has changed to better suit our softer and less plant orientated diets – which has caused the entire problem with wisdom teeth. Is that any sort of perfection? Of course not. Same goes with the appendix which no longer serves any sort of practical function and only ever causes problems.

    The notion od ’survival of the fittest’ suggests that what has survived and is now in use is necessarily the best from amongst part alternatives

    Not at all because conditions change all the time and what we have now, generally speaking, is the best for conditions as they were. It also seems strange that he’s trying to apply a natural biological theory to an artificial context (all about man made/constructed concepts).

    If he wants to go down that path, fine, it’s one where he can be likewise proven to be wrong. The Theory of Evolution has actually lead to many innovations in the modern age; it is a huge foundation for the entire field of Biology which has developed medicines which keep us all living longer and in a better state of health. Leaving that field entirely, Evolutionary principles can be found in many aspects of modern engineering (especially in fields such as robotics).

  2. Plish said

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matt!

    Six Thinking Hats, to me, is an interesting and creative way to get opinions on ideas. I see it more as a triage tool as opposed to a creativity tool per se. What I like about de Bono is his authenticity. The man says what he thinks and runs with it-you and he share this admirable quality!

    I agree with your biological based corrective to de Bono’s thoughts. I think if most people knew the perspectives you do, they would think similarly to you but they don’t. In fact, I think most people probably have a de Bono stated perception of Evolution.

    I would differ on the impact of the Theory of Evolution as leading to innovation – I see modern age changes as a result of cultural dynamism on a macro and micro level- Evolution/transformation lived as opposed to applied.

    I applaud de Bono’s application of a biological theory to an altogether different field. Innovations through history are the result of such applications. It stimulated discussion and more reflective thought on both our parts – that’s a good thing.

    Thanks again for your provocative posting!

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