The human mind is capable of managing an enormous amount of information, but it has its limitations. Lateral thinking is a term that is commonly used to creatively resolve any situation , but few put it into practice. To improve our creative capacity, we wanted to answer questions such as what lateral thinking is and how it differs from the traditional way of thinking.
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1. What is lateral thinking
2. Differences between lateral and vertical thinking
3. Techniques for lateral thinking What is lateral thinking
We need new methods that allow us to solve problems, not just a succession of ideas logically. The basis of lateral thinking is to break the mold, literally, and take into account any possible approach . This not only allows us to obtain different points of view, but also to exercise and improve our creative capacity.
Therefore, this attitude frontally rejects the dogmas. In other words: to go to point B there is no single path (from A to C), but we can get to the same point in other ways, if we look at everything from another perspective. This idea seems very abstract, but it is possible to understand it if we compare it with traditional thinking and give some examples.
The concept was created in 1967 by Maltese psychologist Edward De Bono in his book The Use of Lateral Thinking . De Bono also coined the term vertical thinking as the method commonly used to solve problems. De Bono expanded on these concepts in later books such as Six Thinking Hats (1985).
Lateral thinking can be applied for the following purposes:
- Get new ideas.
- Troubleshoot or solve problems.
- Find new methods or ways to solve problems.
- Re-question truths that are considered unquestionable.
- Solve everyday problems, use it as a mental attitude.
Differences between lateral and vertical thinking
Edward De Bono defines the difference between both thoughts in a very clear way: “Vertical thinking is based on the sequence of ideas; lateral thinking can make leaps.” To get an even clearer idea of these two ways of thinking, we break down their main differences.
Vertical thinking is characterized by the following:
- To find the answer to a problem, you have to follow a single path and discard the rest.
- We always move towards solving the problem, in only one direction.
- Each step depends on the previous one. This poses a problem, and that is that each step must be correct.
- Context is extremely important. The concepts used must be related to the problem posed.
- When the resolution is reached, the validity of the answer depends on the path that has been followed.
In contrast, lateral thinking has the following characteristics.
- To find the answer to a problem, all possible paths are explored and, if necessary, new points of view are obtained.
- The important thing is change, that is, we can distance ourselves from solving the problem if that means finding a more creative method of solving it.
- Each step is independent of the previous one. The important thing is to find new ways.
- Uses concepts and similes that are not related to the context of the problem.
- When the resolution is reached, its validity is independent of the path followed.
We can understand these points through the following image:
Simple diagram of vertical and lateral thinking. | Edward DeBono.
As we have seen, vertical thinking is always the most logical path, and therefore, the one we have always used (or have been taught in our educational stages) to find an answer. However, it is not always the most successful. The application of lateral or creative thinking can be an equally effective and fast way to solve any problem.
On the other hand, Edward De Bono assures that both are complementary . That means that, to find a new idea, solve a problem or find a solution, we can use both methods. Logic and creativity can go hand in hand.Techniques for lateral thinking
We are not used to putting lateral thinking into practice. For this reason, the author proposes a series of techniques and exercises to develop our creative capacity.
Instead of “techniques”, we will use the term proposed by Edward De Bono: provocative operation or provocation, abbreviated as “Po” . When we want to find a solution, we rely on previous experiences, established patterns or methods that have been useful to us. The provocation introduces thoughts that, a priori, may seem illogical to us. Here are some examples: 1. Random words
It consists of creating a chain of random words in which each new word is related to the previous one. Our brain will be in charge of associating that random word with the problem at hand. In this way, we will come to find a possible way to solve the problem. Sometimes a chance event opens our eyes to very different matters. Eureka! 2. Escape
Examine the object involved in the problem and remove an important feature from it. Another escape route may be to discard reasoning that is always taken for granted .. For example, we all take it for granted that a computer mouse is used by hand, but if we discard that assumption, we can come up with a creative solution for a visually impaired person to surf the Internet. 3. Stone in the road
This provocation consists of exaggerating or distorting an aspect of the problem (some refer to this as “environmental entity”). This will force us to look for alternative paths that can lead us to creative solutions.
Different techniques to find creative solutions. | Rawpixel. 4. Inversion
The inversion method forces us to turn our problem around, go in the opposite direction to find the solution. Let’s say for example that we want to improve the sales of a product. We invert the problem by assuming that the company must buy the product from customers. From there, we can think about the reasons that would lead the company to buy the product. 5. Analogy
Analogy or comparison aims to get away from stereotypes, look for similarities between two concepts or ideas and see how we can benefit from that comparison. Analogies may be confusing or meaningless at first, but they can lead to some of the most creative solutions. 6. Division
The last technique or provocation (Po) that we pointed out consists of dividing the object of our problem into fractions or divisions,regardless of the fact that each of these parts does not make sense on its own . When we recompose the object of the problem, we will not do it in a conventional way, but following a pattern or model that we have not used before. Conclusion
As we have seen, lateral thinking can be tremendously useful when we are faced with a mental block or when the usual methods are not useful. For De Bono, there are three reasons why we cannot advance in our thinking: we lack information, there is a mental block or the obvious does not allow us to contemplate a better option. The lateral model can almost always help us in the last two cases.
According to the psychologist, educational models have always revolved around vertical thinking, around the logical and rational sequence of ideas. However, it is important to develop creativity from an early age. In this sense, De Bono affirms that the creative process of lateral thinking could be applied, approximately, from the age of 7.
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De Bono Edward. 2006. Lateral Thinking. Editorial Paidos Iberica SA
De Bono, E., & Castillo, O. (1994). Creative thinking. Editorial Paidos.
Michael Voldosina. 2010. New Lateral Thinking Puzzles. RBA Books SA