Think ‘lateral’

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 in , | No Comments

Think laterally

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono. [wiki]

According to de Bono, lateral thinking deliberately distances itself from standard perceptions of creativity as either “vertical” logic (the classic method for problem solving: working out the solution step-by-step from the given data) or “horizontal” imagination (having a thousand ideas but being unconcerned with the detailed implementation of them). [wiki]

First written in the book “The Use of Lateral Thinking“, Edward De Bono’s methods have been employed by thousands of creative thinking and training courses in various guises. Lateral thinking is a huge subject and just one of de Bono’s many thinking systems. Although the Edward de Bono methods are based on a fundamental understanding of how the brain handles information, they are designed to be simple and practical — and with the right training you can improve your ability to think laterally.

On de Bono defines lateral thinking in several ways, ranging from the technical to the illustrative, here are two:

1. “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper”

This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed.

2. “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions”

With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then ‘process’.

How to think outside of the box

There are many techniques used to think laterally, but a central theme is not making obvious connections. As touched upon in ‘Gather inspiration‘ and ‘Research and question‘, changing your status quo and questioning convention is key to new and lateral thoughts:

    1. Alternatives / Concept Extraction: Use concepts to stretch and breed new ideas.
      Thinking of a variety of specific ways to implement a concept is one way to generate ideas. Then each specific idea can be mined for additional concepts. Extracting a new concept creates a whole new pathway for generating further specific ideas.
    2. Focus: Sharpen or change your focus to improve your creative efforts.
      ‘Focus’ is not commonly thought of as a tool, but it is. For example, you can learn to focus on areas that no one else has bothered to think about. Doing so may lead you to a breakthrough idea simply because you are the first person to pay any attention to this area. Just moving through a typical day, you can deliberately notice what is going on at any given moment and choose to focus on your surroundings or activities to look for new ideas.
    3. Challenge: Break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating.
      Challenge is key to innovation because it is based on the assumption that there may be a different way to do something even if there is no apparent problem with the current way of doing it.
    4. Random Entry: Use unconnected input to open new lines of thinking.
      By using a randomly chosen word, picture, sound, or other stimulus to open new lines of thinking, this tool plays into the power of the human mind to find connections between seemingly unrelated things.
    5. Provocation: Move from a provocative statement to useful ideas.
      Provocations are deliberately unreasonable ideas that would be immediately vetoed by those who do not understand the process. However, these ideas are only posed to change perception and offer a new starting point from which to move to more practical alternatives. They use Movement techniques to get from the Provocation to an idea that could work — stepping out of the box and bringing new ideas back in.
    6. Harvesting: Select the best of early ideas and shape them into useable approaches.
      Harvesting helps you spot ideas that could be implemented right away as well as those that need more work. By Harvesting, you can avoid moving too quickly to choose among all of the ideas you’ve generated. Instead, take a longer look and make the most of the “yield.”
    7. Treatment of Ideas: Develop ideas and shape them to fit an organisation or situation.
      Useful for working with initial ideas to make them more specific and practical, one Treatment method is called ‘Shaping’ whereby you think of any constraints that might interfere with the execution of the idea and then shape the idea to fit within these constraints.(Source:

Think big, then narrow the focus

A useful method of thinking is demonstrated by the diagram atop this article. Broaden your scope of thinking by challenging the idea, using random entry, provocation and alternative thinking techniques first as you widen your acceptance of ideas. Blow up the scope of ideas as big as you can before you reign it back in to meet the goal posts of the brief — one in ten ideas is generally worth pursuing. You never know what you’ll discover.

      • Constructively challenge the status quo to enable new ideas to surface
      • Find and build on the concept behind an idea to create more ideas
      • Solve problems in ways that don’t initially come to mind
      • Use alternatives to liberate and harness the creative energy of the organisation
      • Turn problems into opportunities
      • Select the best alternate ideas and implement them

Anyone who devises strategy, works in R&D, idea generation, concept development or creative problem solving will benefit from some understanding of lateral thinking. You can sign up for the official de Bono official here:

“If more bankers and traders had read Lateral Thinking and applied the ideas of Edward de Bono to their own narrow definitions of risk, reward and human expectations, I suspect we would be in much better shape than we are”. – Sir Richard Branson

(This blog is NOT endorsed or sponsored by the Effective Thinking Course, DeBonoConsulting or any third party)

Continue reading the ‘Cultivating Creativity’ series

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