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Method Description

Provocation or provocation technique is a method of idea generation introduced by Edward de Bono. It works by challenging existing assumptions and perceptions with the help of so-called provocations. It exists in many variations and is one of the most important categories of creativity techniques.

In ideation, provocations are used to throw thinking off its usual tracks by specifically challenging existing assumptions and experiences or providing unexpected stimuli. They thus help to overcome operational blindness and enable new perspectives. Provocations can be mere random terms or deliberately constructed falsifications of facts or expert knowledge. Even shocking provocations can be effective. To emphasize that the effect of the provocations takes place only in the mind, and to avoid confusion with the usual meaning of the word, they are also called Mental Provocations.

(Mental) Provocations are never meant as statements that can be true or false. Rather, they are intended to serve as suggestions – as stepping stones to new ideas. If they were treated as normal statements, there would be a risk that they would trigger unwanted discussions or meet with rejection. To avoid this, de Bono recommends announcing provocations by prefixing them with the word PO. The word PO has no meaning of its own, it simply provides the sentence that follows it as a suggestion. Accordingly, the following two statements are very different:

All professors love their students.
PO All professors love their students.

The first sentence is an assertion that could be true or false, while the second sentence is merely a suggestion. The easiest way to think of PO is as a “What if…?” question. interpret, that is:

What if all professors loved their students?

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