A term coined by Maltese psychologist and author Edward De Bono, ‘lateral thinking’ is the process of finding new solutions and new perspectives to address a challenge. Lateral thinking is essentially a creative decision-making process that helps you find out-of-the-box solutions. Logical thinking, also known as vertical thinking, incorporates straightforward ways to deal with issues conventionally. Lateral thinking methods strive to take multidisciplinary approaches to find a more effective solution for the problem creatively. Lateral thinking enables you to discover potential solutions that may be previously missed due to a rigid vertical thinking mindset.
The key to lateral thinking is curiosity. Over time, as we age, we started building our decision-making techniques based on collective experiences in the past. Over a certain period, we start looking at things, problems, and situations in the same light. Lateral thinking encourages us to disrupt our conventional thought processes and find creative solutions. With age, we start losing the wonderment in our everyday life. By associating rigid ideas about how things function, we shut the doors to a host of other possibilities. Curiously observing a situation without any assumptions can help you think about never thought of before solutions. Start with a fresh mindset and disregard everything you know about the issue at hand. Try to look at it from an unbiased perspective.
By questioning the conventional way to solve a problem, we can open up a world of possibilities that were previously unknown to us. Relentless inquiry into the subject matter to determine the root cause of the problem gives us the benefit of looking at a problem from a new perspective. The more questions you ask, the more perspectives you gain.
Edward De Bono has described four techniques to develop lateral thinking skills.
The first step in lateral thinking is – being aware of how our brain functions. It is important for us to understand how our brain processes information. Our brains tend to rely on pre-existing thought patterns. While it certainly helps us in making decisions faster, one needs to understand these patterns. By recognizing them, we can move forward and disrupt them to get a fresh perspective.
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When you are dealing with a huge issue or a complicated problem, it is possible to get stuck in a creative rut. There might come a time when it feels like there are no other options to tackle the issue. To defocus from the rigidity of vertical thinking, we can jumpstart the creative thinking process by picking up a random element and correlating it to the issue at hand. This shakes the conventional thought processes in our brains and opens up possibilities of new thought pathways.
Once you find a solution that seems suitable enough for the situation, put that aside. With the obvious solution on the bench, you can start brainstorming alternatives for it. They can be very random. It is okay, even if some of them seem unlikely. The target is to gather as many creative alternatives as possible. One of them just might prove to be more efficient and effective than the most obvious one. Let your mind wander and come up with all sorts of ideas. Some of them may not work, and some of them might lead you to better ideas.
Alteration is a technique in which you alter the situation to deny the elements that are taken for granted. This helps in removing biases that might hamper your creative thinking process. Breaking down the problem’s gestalt into tiny fragments, you can see if the changes in relationships between these fragments can trigger a better solution. Once you arrive at an appropriate solution for the problem at hand, check if it is the most effective by changing the relationships between its elements and observing or predicting the efficacy of the solution.