“The factory is downstream of itself”

Dr. Edward de Bono


“Po!” … Disruptive creativity


Creativity derived from a provocative operation


“The factory is downstream of itself” … it doesn’t make sense!

However, the statement famously provoked some important and original thinking … factories should draw their water downstream from their own outputs.

An awesome innovation of self-regulation that benefits the environment.

“Welcome to po”

Let’s work through a couple of simple examples together …



Imagine you are a Sales Manager for a large company that has many Sales Representatives on the road that visit many potential clients. At your sales meeting, you make the statement:

“Po … we should cancel all of our sales appointments”

Because you’ve said “po” before making the statement, your sales staff realize that you’ve made a provocative statement for the purpose of eliciting fresh and original thinking. I actually faced this exact scenario about 10 years ago. Several of the responses were used:

  • Use technology to do “virtual” appointments;
  • Create a YouTube training video to assist in the use of our products;
  • Instead of visiting the clients, invite them to see our operation (manufacturing, engineering, design, quality control, transport) in action so they can better appreciate the products they use;
  • Invite the clients to social events like a golf day;
  • Set up regional offices close to concentrations of customers;
  • Set up display centers within retail centers; and
  • Did you come up with any ideas?

A very powerful disruptive tool for the generation of original thinking and definitely one of my favorites?

Provocations can be nonsensical, funny, stupid, impractical, not sensible, not business-minded, not politically correct, or just plain daft. And there’s no absolute requirement to announce your provocative intentions by leading with “po”.



Once again, this is a real situation I faced

You’re at a large gathering of good friends. It has been awesome catching up with everyone, the evening has been a huge success, but the restaurant you are dining at is closing soon. Everyone seems to be focused on saying goodnight. You don’t want the evening to end, so you stand up and say out loud and clear …

“Let’s go skinny-dipping in the river and cool off”

Ha, ha, yes, I really said that … in the middle of a very cold Melbourne winter LOL.

You’ll notice that I didn’t lead with “po”.

So, what happened?

  • It immediately got everyone’s attention;
  • It abruptly lifted the energy of our gathering;
  • It focused everyone’s attention towards continuing the night’s festivities;
  • Several people made excellent suggestions, none of which involved getting naked LOL;
  • Most of us partied on at a new venue.

The original suggestion of skinny-dipping in the middle of winter was a silly suggestion. It was all about creating thoughts about things we could do.

“Po” doesn’t necessarily have to be stated out loud. In fact, you don’t have to tell anyone what you are up to.

“Sometimes disruptive creativity is all about taking a situation you aren’t happy with, and changing it”

I didn’t want the night to end, and I focused the group’s attention on what I wanted without anyone being the wiser (at the time LOL).

The origin of “po”.

Some claim it to be an extraction from words like “hypothesis”, “suppose”, or “possible” … whatever.

The point is … it’s powerful, and it works.



Yet again, a real-life situation I recently faced. “Po” can be anything … actions, objects, surprises …

We faced a bit of a crisis in our home not too long ago … my partner, Alice (not her real name) lost her job. It was a very specialized job that eventually succumbed to overseas competition. Her skills were now obsolete on the Australian continent. She’d been a top executive on a generous salary, and she was certain that she was too old to ever find such a satisfying position again.

Alice’s depression, negativity, and inability to see herself in any other job only got worse over time … something had to break.

We live on rural acreage, so I thought I might try to get her thinking about stuff she could do locally.

The provocation: I took her car (a fuel-efficient hybrid) and traded it in on a huge V8 4WD “ute” (that’s a “pickup truck” for those of you not familiar with the Aussie lingo).

When I got home … the “joy” LOL.

“What the f#@k do you expect me to do with that thing?”

I had no idea, but I asked her to please think about how she might put the vehicle to good use and if she didn’t want “that thing” after three months I’d buy her a new car of her choosing.

The first thing that happened: She immediately had a different mind-set. I can’t necessarily describe it as positive … more like “confused” LOL. But you have to understand, from my perspective that was a huge improvement.

Alice decided that she may as well put the vehicle to good use for the 3 months and she set about the task of cleaning up the 10 hectares we live on and making some improvements. She’s a naturally industrious sort of personality, so it was only a matter of days before our property was looking fantastic.

The second thing that happened: Alice started to feel good about herself again. She started vegetable gardens, planted fruit trees, built a chicken coup, installed extra water tanks, and (on her own) assembled a new shed for all her new activities.

The third thing that happened: Alice loves to go to the local arts and crafts markets. She and her best friend decided to start up their own stall selling all the local arts and crafts that didn’t find their way to market because the creators were too small and inefficient to justify having a stall of their own.

It didn’t take long before Alice had bought a large trailer and fitted the ute with a tow-ball. She had the largest and most-diverse stand at any local market.

Success! I was so proud of my girl and the way she had turned her life around. And that’s where this story could have ended … but there’s more.

Several doors down from us we had a neighbor that we’d never met. (Several doors down is half a mile in our neighborhood LOL). He owned and ran his own earth-moving business. We happened to be behind him on a road near home one day when his truck and trailer slowly veered off the road and rolled into a drainage ditch.

Heart-attack. We finally got the chance to meet the neighbor.

The fourth thing that happened: Alice used her huge V8 ute to help the neighbor keep his business running by towing trailers with the small to medium sized equipment to the various jobs it was required. She couldn’t do everything that a truck could, but she managed to keep the business alive while the neighbor recovered.

The business has grown and they are now business partners. Alice loves her new job.

FYI … she kept the ute.


Summary – Lesson FIVE

Provocative operations break the shackles of stale thinking.

“Sometimes … you just need to “disrupt” something you don’t like so that new and original thinking can shine through”


Remember to always discuss what you have learned with someone.

Try making some outrageous and silly statements to see what comes from them. Buy a loved one something “crazy” for Xmas. Do something completely unexpected.

In more professional (workplace) scenarios, maybe introduce your provocative statements/actions with “po” to let your audience know what you are up to LOL.


If you’ve been doing the lessons in the correct order, you should be confident to discuss the four following subjects:

  1. Our education and life experiences can often lead to a “blinkered” viewpoint;
  2. Random starting points (or random entry points) are a lateral thinking tool (or skill) that can be easily learned and used to break the shackles of our blinkered thinking;
  3. Creative thinking is merely the combining of two or more ideas that haven’t been combined/considered before;
  4. Considering the viewpoints or perspectives of others is an effective lateral thinking tool of creativity; and
  5. Provocative operations help to derive fresh and original thinking.

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Check out my vision for the future of lateral thinking here

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Please contact me with any difficulties you might be having.

Go to the next lesson:

Lesson SIX – Challenge Existing Assumptions


Michael Muxworthy

Lateral Thinking Author and Anti-Complacency Antagonist

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