Thursday, May 26

What a Wonderful Word (Part 2 – “Po”)

When I blogged about “Mu” three weeks ago, the bright sparks amongst you must surely have expected a follow-up.   (The clue was in the title:  “Part 1”!)   So here’s the sequel, this time discussing Edward de Bono’s wonderful word, “Po”.

In some respects, it’s actually a little like “Mu”.  Both words are hedging their bets in my preferred netherworld between “Yes” and “No”.

Actually de Bono was trying far too hard here, positioning the word variously in his 40+ books as shorthand for almost anything, but certainly for “Provocative Operation”, “Provoke”, “Prod”, “Poke” or “Position”.   No-one needs to be so thorough or exacting, and I’d have been just as happy with “Yip”, “Clo” or “Sab” myself – but then I’m not the best-selling author.   (If only you’d each agree pay 99p a month for this blog on your Kindles!)

Curiously, the way he encourages us to use “Po” makes it feel more like punctuation!  It announces a provocative suggestion, but isn’t actually part of that suggestion.  For example:
  • “Po, let’s stop selling that product and buy it instead”
  • “Po, why don’t cars have square wheels”
  • “Po, a factory should be upstream of itself” 
It’s this final example of which de Bono seems most proud.  He tells his readers that it was this particular “po” which resulted in a change of best practice, such that most water inlets are now downstream from the outlets.

Based on the examples above, the level-headed reader might already have deserted this blog post, opting for a nice cup of tea in preference to a plate of tripe.  But fear not, I’m coming to the point … by degrees …

The really important thing about these “pos” is that they’re highly effective in their job of provocation.  If the audience is prepared to tolerate creative thinking techniques (often the biggest challenge) then they successfully divert the thinker onto new tracks.   No-one’s suggesting that wheels should actually be square, it’s just that in pursuing that train of thought we might arrive somewhere new.  And it might even be sensible and valuable too!   That’s what EdB is getting at when he observes that you sometimes don’t know why you’re saying something until after you’ve said it.

Some here are some suggestions to help you formulate “pos”.  The more you practice, the better equipped you’ll be, because it’s often useful to be able to launch “pos” with little or no notice:
  • Introduce some random element in combination with the subject at hand, or
  • Cast aside the constraints of reality, and plant some idealistic vision, or
  • Abandon or reverse or resize one of the basic attributes of the subject 

Better still, here’s my challenge to the web development community:  Why can’t I just visit “”, type in my one-line problem statement, and expect a “po” at the click of a mouse?

1 comment:

  1. Did you know there are places online that will provide a random noun for this purpose, called "Random Word Generator"?
    What's the advantage of having technology be able to provide a provocation? Why not learn how yourself? Here's an interesting .pdf on forming questions:
    (This link downloads a .pdf to your computer.)