When to use it
Use it when people are stuck in a rut and do not know it.
Use it when you want to shake things up.
How to use it
Say something provocative
When things are getting boring and samey, say something provocative, just to prod people into thinking differently. You can use all forms of challenge, from slaying sacred cows to naming dead elephants.
Saying something that has no particular meaning is often good. For example, ‘There’s a lumpy in the driveway, folks. And we have to get it out of the city soon.’ When people look at you, then you can do something like smiling enigmatically or saying something less radical but still likely to make them think.
The trick with provocation is to get them out of their rut rather than drive them further in. If they are too confused by you, they will mentally run away. Thus you may need to come right back to rational words after a provocative statement. It all depends on the people you are with.
If needed, you can warn people about this or otherwise legitimize your actions. e.g. ‘We’re getting stuck on this idea – I think we should throw the whole building out of the window.’ Edward de Bono suggests prefixing provocation with ‘Po’. Thus, for example, ‘Po: The garden is in the house’.
Do something provocative
An alternative to speaking is to act in a provocative way. A simple approach is to stand up and move about. Then there is a whole spectrum of things you can do, each more shocking than the last. Stand on a table. Throw something. Turn a chair upside down. Take off some clothing. Touch other people (careful here…).
This is a great attention-getter. When you have attention you can then add provocative words to show how the team needs to think differently.
Why don’t we do it all in cotton? – Because everything so far has been fluff. Let’s get more creative, people!
My gumby is covered in eels…is that crazy enough?
Let’s put a match to that. Game and set, I think. But what if it was not a game? What if we could make this happen tomorrow?
Take that idea and paint it blue!
How it works
When people get stuck (often without knowing it), provocation works by deliberately confusing them. When we cannot make sense of something we are given, we are forced to think more deeply about what is going on.
The difference between provocation and challenge is in the intent: in challenge, you are focusing on the problem, whilst in provocation, you are focusing on the people.