Lateral Thinking

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Example of Lateral ThinkingDefinition Lateral Thinking? Meaning.

Lateral Thinking (LT) is a term which was invented by Edward De Bono in his books: New think: The use of lateral thinking in the generation of new ideas (1967) and further developed in Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step.

LT is a creative, fresh approach to problem solving and to thinking in general by approaching problems indirectly at multiple, diverse and unorthodox angles instead of concentrating on one approach at length. Trying harder in the same direction using the same approach is less useful as changing the direction and/or the approach.

LT is closely related to insight, creativity and humour. All four of these share the same basis. But unlike insight, creativity and humour, it is a deliberate process. Whereas creativity is often only the description of a result, LT is the description of a specific process using certain tools.

LT is about reasoning that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic (comparable to Integrative Thinking). 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. LT is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change the pieces. It is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organize the external world into the pieces we can then 'process'.

De Bono identified four critical factors associated with lateral thinking:

  1. Recognize dominant ideas that polarize perception of a problem.

  2. Searching for different ways of looking at things.

  3. Relaxation of rigid control of thinking.

  4. Use of chance to encourage other ideas. This last factor has to do with the fact that lateral thinking involves low-probability ideas which are unlikely to occur in the normal course of events.

Lateral versus Vertical (Logical) Thinking

According to Hernandez and Varkey, the main differences between Vertical and Lateral (horizontal) thinking are:

  • Vertical thinking is a stepwise way of thinking and applies certain rules to achieve a predetermined goal. This approach has a linear direction and is restricted by logic; it only selects the relevant information and skills required for the set goal. Vertical thinking requires a depth of knowledge so that the right decisions can be made under whatever circumstances.
  • LT is not a stepwise fashioned way of thinking. In contrast, it seeks different directions for a certain problem that needs to be solved. Furthermore, this approach is not restricted by logical; it does not follow certain rules so as to achieve goals already set. Rather it involves creativity and imagination to generate new and innovative ideas. Rather than demanding a depth of knowledge, LT demands an understanding of complex systems, a so-called breath of knowledge.
  Vertical Thinking Lateral Thinking
Linear Yes No
Pattern Develop an existing pattern Restructure an existing pattern
Direction Stepwise and methodical Multidirectional and creative
Uncertainty Tolerated No Yes
Rewards for Depth of Knowledge Breadth of Knowledge
Restricted by relevant information Yes No
Novel approaches welcomed No Yes

Source: Hernandez, J.S. and P. Varkey (2008) “Vertical versus Lateral Thinking” The Physician Executive

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