The Idea Sensitive Point

By Edward De Bono (sourced from

In some of my writings I have mentioned the ‘isa’ or ‘idea sensitive area’. Because the term ‘isa’ has since come to indicate a type of investment instrument, it may be sensible strategy to change the term to ‘ISP’ or ‘idea sensitive point’.

Everyone knows what a bottleneck is. A bottleneck is a constriction or restriction on flow. The bottleneck controls and limits the flow through the channel. The bottleneck determines the rate of flow. Much effort is made to identify bottlenecks. Once identified, the bottleneck can be opened up and widened. Or the bottleneck can be by-passed.

In general, efforts are made to remove the restricting effects of the bottleneck. In some ways an ‘idea sensitive point’ is the opposite of the bottleneck. It is not a restricting or limiting area. There may be no reason at all why you should notice the area.

An ISP is a point or an area where a change in idea can produce substantial results. These results can take the form of increased sales, increased profits, reduced costs, etc. Take the label on a bottle of table water (mineral water, etc.) This is not an area which demands attention. There are no problems. The label serves its purpose. Nevertheless, the label could be an ISP. When a bottle is placed on a table everyone can read the label.

When you buy a bottle the label is very visible. What could you do with that visibility?

Why not use the label, or adjacent areas, for advertising? Why not advertise cars or digital cameras? An even better idea would be to advertise holidays to exotic places. If chosen well, such advertisements might even enhance the ‘feeling’ around the water. If bargain discounts were offered for such holidays, that bottled water would be sought out.

So the label is an ISP. There may be many different ideas which flow from considering this ISP.


Does the ISP come first and then we look around for ideas? Or, does the idea come first and then we realise it is an ISP?

Research shows that screw-caps on wine bottles are much better for the wine than the traditional cork. Corks are unreliable and a significant amount of wine is wasted through bad corks. The difficulty is that screw-caps would suggest a cheap wine. The tradition and ritual of pulling a cork would be lost. For this reason plastic corks have been developed which are more reliable than ordinary corks but still retain the ‘cork’ effect and action. So this could be an ISP – even though it is also a problem.

One idea would be for expensive wines to have silver enamelled screw caps. These obviously expensive caps would be works of art. For example, each cap could be a chess piece – so you would collect a chess set. Or anew game could be designed to use the special caps.

There are many other ideas which could develop around this particular ISP. In this example the ISP arises from a perceived problem. In the case of the label on the water bottle it did not.

Restaurants have menus. Diners pay a bill. There is an ISP here. Maybe restaurants could carry half a dozen of the current best-selling books. You choose one from the menu and it is simply added to your bill. You hardly notice the purchase. You can also purchase a book as a gift to your guests. You have bought your guest a steak, which has been consumed, why not a book, which lasts longer?


Whose duty is it to look for ISPs? As usual, the answer is everyone’s and no one’s. That is always the case with creativity. Obviously, everyone is supposed to be creative. The result is that no one makes any effort to be creative. Creativity is seen as a sort of by-product while you are doing something else. Too often it is assumed that new ideas are the business of the R&D department. This is a bad mistake. The mind-set of science and research is the mind-set of analysis and discovery. That is the exact opposite of the mind-set of creativity and design.

There is a huge difference between trying to find out ‘what is’ and seeking to design ‘what can be’. I have often suggested that organisations need a specific ‘Concept Department’ that is separate from R&D and Marketing. It would be the business of this department to seek out ISPs and to put them on the ‘Creative Hit List’.

It could be argued that any point could be a potential ISP. Here we need to distinguish between ‘improvement’ as such and an ISP. There is always room for improvement at any point in a process. The improvement may be small or large. The point about an ISP is the word ‘sensitive’. The word ‘sensitive’ means that you get a big effect from a small idea. A person who is sensitive to oysters gets a big reaction from a very small amount of oyster.

The mind-set of seeking out ISPs has to be developed. There are no formal rules which will identify an ISP. Your mind has to be open to possibilities and even start to generate an idea before you recognise an ISP.

To produce extra revenue or profits an organisation may have to invest heavily in production capacity or marketing effort. With an ISP a small idea can produce a big result. The investment is disproportionately small. An ISP is an unused asset. It can never make sense for an organisation to under-use its assets. The difficulty with an ISP is that it is an invisible asset until someone notices it. It is like buried treasure. No one knows it is there, so no one makes an effort to find it.


Every organisation knows about the need to develop new products and services. A considerable effort is made to do this, even if the effort consists in following someone else with a ‘me too’ product. Developing anew product or service is not the same as identifying ISPs and then generating ideas around them. Sometimes the ISP frame of mind can be applied to discerning new values. There are the obvious values, but there are also values which are hidden unless you look directly at them. These are a form of ISP. Once the value has been identified then a new product or service can be designed to deliver that value.


Noticing is a difficult operation. You no longer notice something with which you are very familiar. You notice things that are wrong but not things that are right. You take for granted what is always around you.

Sometimes there needs to be an external perspective to notice something that cannot be noticed from within the system. It is certainly possible to notice ISPs from within an organisation. It can also be useful to notice them from outside the organisation.


There are points where a new idea can make a big difference. These points are ‘sensitive’ to new thought. There is a need to identify such points and then to proceed to generate ideas around those points. There needs to be a formal effort to do this. Assuming that it will be done is not good enough. ISPs are unused assets. To leave them unused does not make good business sense.


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