Lateral Thinking: What it is and 7 Techniques to Develop the Skill

Lateral thinking refers to a person’s capacity to problem solve by imagining creative solutions that cannot be figured out by deductive or logical solutions. Basically, it’s thinking outside of the box! Coined by Maltese physician and psychologist, Edward de Bono, lateral thinking is the essence of creativity. This gives you a chance to put on a detectives hat while solving fun mysteries!

How to Use Lateral Thinking & Generate Brilliant Ideas

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking, as coined by Edward de Bono in 1967, is a term used to describe a persons ability to solve problems using thoughtful solutions beyond logical and deductive reasoning. In simple terms, an individual can think creatively to solve complex challenges.

To solve problems, people often rely on logical reasoning. Logical reasoning or vertical thinking allows people to solve problems in a direct, straightforward manner. On the other hand, lateral thinking or horizontal thinking enables people to examine things differently. As a result, people who engage in lateral thinking can find solutions to problems that are not obvious to others.

As a result, lateral thinking is a sought-after skill in many industries. It is considered the essence of creativity that becomes crucial, especially in times of change—when regular solutions are likely to fail. For instance, marketers and advertisers often employ people with this skill to bring new dimensions into their promotions. This is why many interviews today ask questions that try to test the lateral thinking skills of applicants.

How to improve lateral thinking skills

Lateral thinking can be innate for some people, but it can also be learned. Lateral thinking is more like a tool that you might not need until you have something to fix. Since it is not a skill that everyone can easily comprehend, some individuals might not notice their improvements until they are faced with new life problems.

Ultimately, you can become more efficient with your time as you practice some of these techniques in the face of issues. Edward de Bono, in his 1967 book, ensured to give strategies that might help anyone improve their lateral thinking skills. The following are some of these techniques.

1. Be more aware

The first step in improving lateral thinking is to be aware of how the brain processes information. Before tackling a new problem, its critical to recognize the brains tendency to rely on old thought patterns. But that knowledge is not enough; when logical thinking fails, you can use mind maps for help.

Because mind maps are visual aids, they force your brain to adjust its thought processes, often leading to unexpected answers. Mind maps allow you to write down all of your ideas and then take a step back to gather your thoughts.

2. Open your mind to random stimulation

When were trying to think about something, we often mistake blocking out all outside stimuli so we can concentrate. While it is good to focus, it is more important to learn when and how to focus. Sometimes, allowing random, outside stimuli, once in a while, can disrupt your reliance on logical thinking. So, paying attention to occurrences at random might actually lead you to new insights.

3. Look for alternatives

In his book, de Bono argued that even it appears there is a suitable solution to a problem, it can be helpful to set it aside and consider alternative approaches. According to him, trying alternative methods can sometimes be beneficial, even if these methods seem ridiculous.

Considering alternatives even when you already have a solution gives you a chance to evaluate the problem from every possible angle. The technique involves using ready-made concepts as starting points for the production of new ideas.

4. Alter your existing process

This technique entails deliberately modifying available options, such as doing the opposite of an implied direction or reversing any relationship between problem elements. This can include denying previously assumed characteristics, breaking large patterns down into tiny fragments, or translating a connection to an analogy and then back again to see what changed. By arbitrarily changing elements of the problem space, you can generate new tools with which to build a solution.

5. Use transitional objects

Transitional objects are people or things that have specific characteristics that might inspire you to have new ideas. The person or thing in question might have these qualities from a movie you saw or from your imagination. The basic idea is to use your imagination to bring the person or object to life.

For instance, in the face of a challenge, you might want to ask, what is Jerrys reaction (the cartoon character) in this situation? Jerry teaches us that strategy is perhaps an essential weapon against even the fiercest challenge.

6. Ask random questions

This technique involves using unconnected inputs to solve a problem. It could mean bringing up perceived wrong solutions to a problem. For instance, you could ask, “what is the one thing we can not do in this situation?” While this would seem like an irrelevant thought in conventional thinking, it could pave the way for new ideas in lateral thinking. Asking questions like this helps your mind find connections between items that seem unrelated.

7. Challenge your habits

Challenge implies breaking free from the limits of habitual thinking. It involves trying to solve problems using solutions that are not conventional. This technique comes from the belief that there are always better ways to do things even if there are no perceived problems at the moment. To use this technique, you can think of new ways to make systems better. For instance, you can attempt to change the plot of your adverts even when the numbers are doing well.


What is an example of lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking, a term coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono, is the process of solving a problem using an unusual or creative approach. One example of lateral thinking is applied when solving this classic riddle: “A woman had two sons who were born on the same hour of the same day of the same year.

What is lateral thinking thinking?

What is lateral thinking? Lateral thinking is the ability to use your imagination to look at a problem in a fresh way and come up with a new solution.

What is lateral thinking and why is it important?

Lateral thinking means the ability to create multiple ways of approaching problems and dealing with different business situations. You’re motivated by alternative methods of operation, and care less about ‘doing things the right way’ or having to follow certain procedures to get by.

Is it good to be a lateral thinker?

Not only do they test your ability to think creatively, but they can also reveal your problem solving skills as well. If you’re someone who enjoys playing puzzles or working out brain teasers, then you may already be good at answering these types of interview questions.

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