Lateral Thinking

Lateral Thinking

An Introduction to Lateral Thinking by Dr. Edward de Bono.

On the Internet there is much misleading and erroneous information about 'lateral thinking'. Because this is my official website I want to take this opportunity of clarifying matters regarding lateral thinking. I coined the term 'lateral thinking' in 1967. It was first mentioned up in my book called "The Use of Lateral Thinking". There are several ways of defining lateral thinking, ranging from the technical to the illustrative. You can learn to be creative. It is not a mystical gift or just a matter of talent. You do not have to be passive and think that you have little creative talent.

Creative thinking is something you can get better at - if you want to. That is why I prefer the term 'lateral thinking', which I invented to describe a more deliberate form of creativity. We can build up skill in such techniques, and through practice develop confidence. In that way we can add skill in lateral thinking to our other thinking skills. So we become complete thinkers

What is Lateral Thinking?

"Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions"

With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then 'process'. Lateral Thinking is a set of processes that provides a deliberate, systematic way of thinking creatively that results in innovative thinking in a repeatable manner. While critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the "movement value" of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas. I define four main Lateral thinking tools:

  • Idea-generating tools which break free your current thinking patterns from their usual pathways.
  • Focus tools that open your mind to new possibilities in the search for new ideas.
  • Harvest tools that help maximize value is received from the idea generating output
  • Treatment tools that ground the creativity process by making the wild ideas and make them fit the real world constraints, resources, and support.

"You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper".

Often trying to think harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction will not necessarily help you achieve your goal. Lateral thinking deliberately distances itself from "vertical" or logical thinking (the classic method for problem solving: working out the solution step-by-step from the given data) or "horizontal" imagination (having many ideas but being unconcerned with the detailed implementation of them by deferring judgement).

The mathematical need for Lateral Thinking

The brain as a self-organising information system forms asymmetric patterns. In such systems there is a mathematical need for moving across patterns. The tools and processes of lateral thinking are designed to achieve such 'lateral' movement. The tools are based on an understanding of self-organising information systems. This is a technical definition which depends on an understanding of self-organising information systems. In any self-organising system there is a need to escape from a local optimum in order to move towards a more global optimum. The techniques of lateral thinking, such as provocation, are designed to help that change. This is important because it also defines the mathematical need for creativity.

“If you haven't heard of Edward de Bono or of Lateral Thinking, perhaps you have been too busy thinking in conventional ways." - Forbes Magazine

Who should learn the Lateral Thinking techniques?

Anyone who wants a disciplined process for innovation, idea generation, concept development, creative problem solving, or a strategy to challenge the status quo can benefit from Lateral Thinking. If you face fast-changing trends, fierce competition, and the need to work miracles, you need Lateral Thinking. "Great business competitors are great lateral thinkers..." - Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking, involves disrupting an apparent thinking sequence and arriving at the solution from another angle.”

Fun and Hope

Creativity is the "fun " part of thinking and also it is the the "hope " part of thinking. It is that part of thinking concerned with change, with escaping from old ideas. Above all, it is the part of thinking concerned with generating new ideas and new perceptions.

The need for Lateral Thinking.

Unless we realise the need for creative or lateral thinking then we are never going to be motivated to use it. We need to have a clear idea of the occasions that demand - or would benefit - from the application of lateral thinking.

IMPROVEMENT AND CONTINUITY: 1st Broad Area of the need for Lateral Thinking

  1. It is quite possible that the way something is done is the best possible way of doing it.
  2. We commonly suppose that if a method has stood the test of time then it must be sound and efficient..
  3. But the way something is done may have been set in times of incomplete knowledge or when technology was limited. 4.There may be no good reason beyond continuity for doing something as it has always been done. Neglect

As a society we are so problem oriented that unless something is seen to be a problem we do not focus our thinking attention upon it. Something continues to be done in the same old way because no one has bothered to sit down to think about a better way of doing it.


deBono says that repeated success should never insulate an idea from re-thinking. (Repeated success of an idea does not protect that idea from the need for change.) Doing it a better way We could almost perhaps have a slogan: "Whatever is being done can probably be done in a better way." The attitude means that at the back of the thinker's mind there is always the possibility that anything can be improved.

PROBLEM SOLVING 2nd Broad Area of the need for Lateral Thinking

Problem solving and points where Lateral Thinking may be applied.

  1. Problem definition: alternative ways of defining the problem.
  2. Starting point: alternative points within the problem from which to start thinking.
  3. Approaches: alternative ways of looking at the problem (broader than a problem - definition) .
  4. Solution areas: alternative broad areas in which the solution might fall.

INVENTION 3rd Broad Area of the need for Lateral Thinking

Setting out to be an inventor requires a sort of creative courage. Most people do not have it. Most people cannot conceive of themselves inventing anything. deBono states that invention is a step-by-step process. Setting out to be an inventor requires a sort of creative courage. Most people cannot conceive of themselves inventing anything. Opportunity One of the most valuable uses of creative thinking is creation of opportunities. (At the beginning of the day you could say: what new opportunities might I have today?" The next step would be: "What new opportunities might I bring about (or design) today?" At that point the thinker comes to realise that opportunities do not just happen - they can be created. Opportunity Design Most often, inventions and opportunities have to be designed. (Different things have to be brought together). The vacuum cleaner appears obvious in retrospect but somebody had to invent it.

Benefits of Lateral Thinking.

You are trying to convince a non-creative person to be creative, or you are trying to convince an organisation to pay more attention to creativity, spell out the actual benefits;

  1. Improvement
  2. Innovation
  3. Re-thinking
  4. Motivation
  5. Solutions
  6. Invention

Time to be creative.

Many people say that they simply do not have time to be creative. Creativity seems to imply a standing back and indulging in day-dreaming in the hope that a bright idea will come along. This is not the case. Lateral thinking may take no more than one or two minutes. (You try to see things in a different way and you try to find a new approach or a new concept. What is important is that some time is allocated).

My 7 Lateral Thinking Lessons.

  1. Alternatives. How to use concepts as a breeding ground for new ideas. Sometimes we do not look beyond the obvious alternatives.

  2. Focus. When and how to change the focus of your thinking. You will learn the discipline of defining your focus and sticking to it.

  3. Challenge. Breaking free from the limits of traditional thinking. With challenges, we act as though the present way of doing things is not necessarily the best. A tool which is designed to ask the question "Why?" in a non-threatening way: why something exists, why it is done the way it is. The result is a very clear understanding of "Why?" which naturally leads to fresh new ideas. The goal is to be able to challenge anything at all, not just items which are problems.

  4. Random Entry. Using unconnected input to open up new lines of thinking. The thinker chooses an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary, and associates it with the area they are thinking about. The use of any of the provocation techniques—wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, distortion, or arising. The thinker creates a list of provocations and then uses the most outlandish ones to move their thinking forward to new ideas.

  5. Provocation and Movement. Generating provocative statements and using them to build new ideas. The thinker develops provocation operations by the following methods: extract a principle, focus on the difference, moment to moment, positive aspects, special circumstances.

  6. Harvesting. Capturing your creative output. At the end of a creative-thinking session, we normally only take note of the specific ideas that seem practical and have obvious value. Harvesting: Select the best of early ideas and shape them into useable approaches

  7. Treatment of Ideas. How to develop ideas and shape them to fit an organization or situation.

Become a de Bono certified Lateral Thinker and train your brain with my eLearning course in Lateral thinking: de Bono Creativity course