Lateral thinking is the mental process of generating ideas and solving problems by looking at a situation from a unique or different perspective. Lateral thinking involves breaking away from traditional modes of thinking and discarding established patterns and preconceived notions.
By using unconventional thinking techniques, lateral thinking enables you to find innovative solutions that you may otherwise not even consider.
Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward De Bono in 1967 in his book New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking in the Generation of New Ideas. De Bono explained typical problem solving techniques involve a linear, step-by-step approach. He believes a more creative solutions can be obtained by taking a step sideways to look at a situation or problem from an entirely different viewpoint.
Lateral thinking is different from other standard modes of thinking and problem solving. It lies between vertical thinking (classic step-by-step method of problem solving) and brainstorming.
Vertical thinking involves working out the solution step-by-step from the given data. Brainstorming is about generating many ideas, but not being concerned with the detailed implementation of them.
Lateral thinking is similar to brainstorming in that it involves deliberately going outside of the standard bounded thought process. However, unlike brainstorming, it still uses a systematic process that leads to logical conclusions.
It is like vertical thinking in that it is a uses a systematic process that leads to logical conclusions. However, unlike vertical thinking, it involves changing a standard thinking sequence and arriving at the solution from completely different angles.
Vertical thinking uses the processes of logic. Vertical thinking is analytical, sequenced, deliberate, and precise. It involves taking the data from a problem and analyzing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions.
Lateral thinking involves using reasoning that is not straightforward and obvious. It involves generating ideas that are often not obtainable using just traditional step-by-step logic.
The theory behind lateral thinking is that many problems require a different perspective in order to successfully solve them. It focuses on what could be rather than what is possible or likely. To accomplish this, De Bono identified four principles to guide you through the lateral thinking process: