Five lateral thinking techniques
Imagination is the beginning of creation
In the summer of 1981, I worked on a dairy farm. One morning, the farm manager asked me and five others to move twenty cows from one field to another. When we arrived at the field in question, the gate was padlocked and we did not have a key. Someone realised that we could lift the gate off its hinges, allow the cows through then place the gate on its hinges again. So that’s what we did. Shortly after completing the task, the farm manager came running towards us brandishing a key to unlock the padlock. Puzzled, he asked how we got the cows out of the field without the key. We told him we carried them over the gate.
Lateral thinking techniques
There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress and we would be forever repeating the same patterns. - Edward de Bono
Lateral Thinking, a term coined by Edward de Bono, emerged as a framework for approaching problems and fostering creativity. In contrast to Vertical Thinking, based on sequential logic, Lateral Thinking departs from conventional approaches. It is a mode of thought that challenges ingrained assumptions, embracing paradox and contradiction as potential gateways to novel insights.
The benefits of Lateral Thinking are far-reaching, extending beyond problem-solving to encompass creativity, learning and personal growth.
Lateral Thinking techniques include:
Perceptual change: Reframe the problem.
Random input: Explore unexpected connections.
Provocation: Challenge assumptions.
Potential Opening: Ask What if? and Why not?
Thinking hats: Take different perspectives.
1. Perceptual change
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
- W.B. Yeats
By altering our perception of a problem, we can open ourselves to new possibilities. This may involve reframing the problem, viewing it from a different perspective or considering alternative interpretations.
Uber realised that the duration of a passenger’s wait until pickup is less important than the quality of that wait. By allowing passengers to track their approaching driver on a map radically reduces stress.
2. Random input
Introducing elements of randomness can stimulate creativity by breaking down patterns and introducing unexpected connections. This could involve brainstorming without censorship, allowing ideas to flow freely or using tools like word association or mind maps.
Rationality has its uses, but you will improve your thinking a great deal if you abandon artificial certainty and learn to think ambiguously about the peculiarities of human psychology. - Rory Sutherland
Deliberately challenging assumptions and established beliefs can trigger new ideas. This may involve questioning the rules of the game, seeking out dissenting opinions or employing thought experiments.
Airbnb’s founders successfully challenged the assumption that people would not be happy to have total strangers staying in their home.
4. Po (Potential Opening)
Posing hypothetical or paradoxical questions can disrupt conventional thinking and spark new ideas. This could involve asking What if? or Why not? or considering counterfactual scenarios.
My NipTo app helps people to find toilets and other public facilities. Rather than attempting to add all the data in myself, I thought, why not allow users to add data themselves by simply taking a picture?
5. Thinking hats
If you never change your mind, why have one? - Edward de Bono
It is not unusual to be asked, Which hat are you wearing? Not a literal question, but one which seeks to identify the perspective that will be taken. Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats method encourages us to adopt different perspectives by assigning six distinct hats, each representing a specific mode of thought: White Hat (facts), Red Hat (feelings), Black Hat (negatives), Yellow Hat (positives), Green Hat (creativity) and Blue Hat (process management).
Creative Thinking talk by Edward de Bono
How to Find Counterintuitive Solutions post by Phil Martin
Clear Thinking post by Phil Martin
Earlier today, to get something I wanted, I had to walk in the opposite direction through a crowd of rugby fans keen to see their team play. Rather like Lateral Thinking, it was challenging, but worth it.