Lateral Thinking: How It Can Help You

“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.” – Edward De Bono


What is Lateral Thinking?

Lateral thinking is a term associated with creative, out-of-the-box thought processes. It’s commonly used to refer to people who generate fresh ideas and take a radically different approach to problem solving. These people serve as a foil to vertical thinkers, who are known for using straightforward, logical thought processes to solve problems.

The popularity of lateral thinking is associated with Dr. Edward de Bono, the creative British thinker who originated the concept in response to the following question: Why do some people always seem to have new ideas while others of equal intelligence never do?

For four years, de Bono taught lateral thinking through lectures, books, articles and consulting. He related the term to generating new ideas, liberating old ones, and taking a new approach to things that have always been seen in the same light. He notes that the generative lateral thinking is not a substitute for careful, analytical vertical thinking, but that the two approaches complement one another.

According to de Bono, lateral thinking is not a gift; it is a skill that can be learned. He considered lateral thinking “a habit of mind and an attitude of mind” that could be developed through a variety of techniques, including:

  • challenging assumptions, or thinking outside the box
  • brainstorming
  • creating alternative solutions, even when an acceptable solution already exists
  • analogies
  • suspended judgment
  • random stimulation (for example, opening a dictionary, selecting a random word and applying that word to a problem).


How Can I Put This To Use?

In the business world, the ability to think creatively is important for companies that want to innovate and stay ahead. Employees who can approach problems from unexpected perspectives, abandon traditional modes of thought, and toss aside preconceptions can generate ideas to common problems that their competitors will not. This way of lateral thinking can be applied to any industry but is especially useful in media, advertising, marketing, and art and design.

This creative approach to thinking can be practiced with lateral thinking puzzles. Each puzzle presents a bit of information from which the problem-solvers must find an explanation. Because the puzzles do not contain enough information for the solvers to determine the solution, much of the process involves asking questions to narrow down possible answers. As the problem solvers continue to ask questions that eventually reach dead ends, they will be forced to adopt creative approaches to each solution. This is where lateral thinking is developed.

Some people find lateral thinking puzzles frustrating because it’s possible to create multiple answers for each one. However, each problem has a “best” answer that is the most satisfying and fitting for the given statement. Once the problem solvers develop a reasonable solution, they should continue brainstorming answers that are better or more refined. Over time, their questions will become more open-minded, creative and flexible as they piece together different bits of information.

Here are a few websites featuring quizzes that can help test and develop lateral thinking skills:


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