Provocative Statements

Today’s post continues my series on Disrupted Thinking, in which I’ll be posting lots of different approaches for disrupting logical thinking. Today is all about stating the ridiculous. Also known as a Provocation Operation.

Underwater Hockey

In her rather excellent blog, Katie Konrath tells the story of a snorkeling club coming up with the idea for underwater hockey to make their boring winter pool time a bit more interesting. Starting with the knowledge that people don’t like snorkeling in the pool (because it’s boring) and retrospectively applying Edward de Bono’s Provocation Operation Katie imagines the club saying ‘PO: people want to go snorkeling in the pool’. From here the club innovators could have deliberately set about finding ways to make people actually want to go snorkeling in the pool. And so underwater hockey is born.

What is a Provocative Operation?

Previously, I wrote about the concept of an Idea Launchpad as a halfway house for ideas in transit. Edward de Bono referred to it as the need for movement to take us from the familiar patterns of logical thinking and into the unfamiliar territory of lateral thinking. Starting out with a problem to be solved, or a situation to be improved, we often need to use intermediary ideas (usually the silly ones) to help us transition away from our traditional logic. You can do this random word input, creating forced connections between a problem and the random word. You can also do this with deliberately provocative statements, or Provocation Operations in de Bono speak.

The idea is to propose a silly, illogical or impossible statement…and try and make sense of it. As we move away from our normal thought patterns, we should start being creative. Done right, we can use this to generate novel ideas with value. SO as not to scare of our budding creative thinkers, de Bono suggests prefacing these statements with the word ‘PO’ so we know what to do.

Build Your Own Provocation Statements

Here is a great explanation on how to build your own provocation statements. Taking this a bit further, I have applied SCAMPER (an excellent creative thinking tool based on attribute manipulation) to build PO statements for the challenge of house design. Remember, the purpose is to construct a statement that is deliberately shocking, and then find a way to move towards it:

Generate some Movement

Once you have your provocation statement, you need to use it to generate some movement. As with random word forced connections, our approach will be to explore the statement and then use it to find creative answers to our problem. I’ll illustrate the key steps with our house design example using the combination “PO: People park their cars in the kitchen”, which I formed by combining the concepts of kitchen and car port.

1. Explore your PO statement. In this case, why would we park a car in the kitchen, what benefit could that bring and what else is involved. Spend about 5 minutes on this. Here is 30 seconds worth of example thinking:

  • we should find food, food preparation surfaces, a fridge, a dishwasher, tool boxes, dirty concrete floor, and food stores
  • maybe we can now unload groceries direct from the boot and put them straight in the fridge
  • maybe we can use the bonnet as a work surface, or a table to eat off
  • maybe we can drop whatever we like on the floor without caring
  • maybe we can fix our fridge with all the tools we have on hand

2. Do something with these initial movement ideas. Here is another 30 second thought extract, taking forwards ideas from the previous step:

  • what if we build a direct link from the kitchen to the car port, to ease grocery loading/unloading
  • what if kitchens had self cleaning floors or oil repellant work surfaces
  • what if we had fridges which could fix themselves
  • what if we had cars with bonnets that turned into picnic tables

3. Keep going. If you are in a group, share ideas and combine them to develop new ones.


Contradictions and paradoxes can also be used to help stimulate movement from logical thinking, to illogical and creative thinking. Following on with the house design example we might make a number of paradoxical statements:

  • Bigger houses cost less
  • Spend time together in separate rooms

Again, our purpose would be to generate movement…initially finding ways to make sense of these statements. For example

Q) How can bigger houses cost less? Perhaps we use industrial building techniques or modular components? Perhaps we need to introduce subsidies rewarding people for living in smaller houses (which drives prices down for bigger houses)?

Q) How might we spend time together in separate rooms? perhaps we have communal spaces with walls emerging on demand?

Pulling it all together

Both of these approaches are designed to create provocative statements, with the intention that you use them to generate some movement ideas to make sense of them. You really can use pretty much anything as a provocative statement so long as you express your intention to actually do something with it. Tomorrow we’ll look at shifting your thinking entirely, and getting inside other people’s heads.


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