What is lateral thinking and how to enhance it

Jonah Lester
What is lateral thinking and how to enhance it

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant." Albert Einstein

We are used to commonly using and training so-called vertical thinking, that way of thinking focused on acquired learning and whose responses always follow the same pattern. This is the kind of thinking that they make us focus on in study contexts, for example. The ability to learn and solve problems through what has been learned. But there is another very important way of thinking that forms the basis of creativity and that should be trained in the same way or even to a greater extent: lateral thinking..


  • What is lateral thinking?
  • Differences between vertical thinking and lateral thinking
    • Vertical thinking
    • Lateral thinking
  • What is lateral thinking for?
    • To solve problems
    • Finding new ways of doing things
    • Create and innovate
  • How to enhance lateral thinking
    • Random idea generation
    • Focus tools
    • Tools to break with the established
    • Provocative tools
    • Links of interest

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a different way of reasoning and problem solving that uses a creative and indirect approach. Ideas formed through lateral thinking are not usually obtained with the classical type of vertical reasoning in which there is a staggered construction of ideas, a step-by-step approach. In lateral thinking, on the other hand, the straight line of traditional reasoning is left behind and opts for flexibility of thought to find new solutions, looking for ideas from "side by side" avoiding rigidity and finding new original ideas..

This concept was popularized by Oxford psychologist Edward Bono in 1967 and since then, his training has been used in numerous contexts, such as business and creative. Edward Bono associates lateral thinking with humor, in which, as he explains, there is a change in pattern from one idea to another that is not linear but unexpected and lateral, a new idea that, due to its originality, is surprising and makes you laugh, beyond of typical logical thinking.

Differences between vertical thinking and lateral thinking

Vertical thinking

It is one that we use using a logic acquired through experience. It is a way of solving problems that we have learned through practice and the analysis of our actions, an analysis that diminishes the more solid our knowledge is. For example, when we start to drive a car, at first all the stimuli to take into account can overwhelm us and the fact of taking each step effectively can seem very complicated, so we usually analyze everything we are doing conscientiously. As we have learned more and more, driving becomes an automatic task that hardly requires a great deal of cognitive effort. At this point, we do not usually use any type of creativity to solve any problem, but we use our acquired knowledge to do so, we use our vertical thinking that makes us reach results step by step.

Lateral thinking

This type of thinking, on the other hand, does not follow a straight line of steps and stored information to reach a desired conclusion. It looks for parallel ideas and associations that are not obvious in everyday life and that lead to creativity and innovation. Starting from a base, lateral thinking escapes all mental rigidity and immerses itself in the spontaneity and originality of completely new ideas..

What is lateral thinking for?

Lateral thinking allows us to improve our creativity and find new responses to any facet of life. Some of the situations in which using lateral thinking can be an advantage are:

To solve problems

Lateral thinking can be beneficial to find different alternatives and ways that make us solve problems in the most effective way possible. When we are faced with an unexpected mishap that we do not know how to solve through our vertical thinking, using our imagination is essential to achieve our goals and this can be trained through lateral thinking.

Finding new ways of doing things

Obsessing ourselves in always doing things the same way, both in work and personal contexts, can greatly limit us when it comes to going further in our goals. Thinking in a grid way only encloses us in a protocol of programmed actions that do not allow us to go further. Lateral thinking and its techniques can improve our way of doing things through the discovery of new ideas.

Create and innovate

In order to create, you sometimes have to start from scratch and this can block many people who do not feel secure in their creative capacity. Training lateral thinking can provide security and make us more proactive in the face of that “blank page”. The basis of creation and social evolution is closely related to this way of thinking, which can make us go beyond learned patterns.

How to enhance lateral thinking

Lateral thinking allows us to move from a familiar idea to completely new ones. This can be trained in different ways. Some of the most used tools to train lateral thinking are:

Random idea generation

This is a training tool that is based on starting from a random concept or object and generating from this an association with another programmed idea. For example, according to Bono, we could imagine that we start from a word chosen at random like "nose" and we have to try to associate it with a previous idea like "copier". From here, new ideas should be generated to associate one concept with another, such as that the photocopier “could produce a smell of lavender and warn that there is no paper left”, although it sounds little logical.

Focus tools

This training is based on learning to shift our focus to details that might normally go unnoticed. Paying attention to those details can bring up new associated ideas that may never have occurred to us before. For example, imagine you want to come up with an advertisement for a car. What if instead of focusing on the characteristics of the car we focus on the philosophy of life that we believe the drivers of the car value? From here we link it with a star like Bruce Lee and use his philosophy as a slogan: "Be water, my friend", it is still one of the most used taglines twelve years after the announcement of BMW.

Tools to break with the established

With these Bono tries to challenge our mind to get out of the limits that we have established through our previous learning. It is based on the premise that there can be a better way of doing things even when there are no problems with the way we currently do things. It is about striving to give new solutions to old problems in an original way. For example, imagine that you have studied guitar for years at a music school where you have been taught to master all the techniques to near perfection. What if you started doing things differently? You could start using effects and distortions like Jimmy Hendrix or mixing styles and bows like Jimmy Page, and end up being considered one of the best guitarists ever..

Provocative tools

Provocations are statements that despite being or appearing to be incorrect, generate new ideas that break with the established. The ways of reaching provocation can range from exaggeration, distortion, illusion or escape. With this tool we try to generate a list of provocations from an idea, with the purpose of moving towards innovative fields.

Don't miss our Lateral Thinking puzzles

Links of interest

  • What is Lateral Thinking ?. Dr Edward de Bono. https://www.edwddebono.com/lateral-thinking
  • How lateral thinking can help us find better ideas. Dr Edward de Bono. https://www.management-issues.com/opinion/5643/how-lateral-thinking-can-help-us-find-better-ideas/
  • Forget Logic And Use Lateral Thinking To Innovate. Anastasia Anokhina. https://medium.com/thinkfuture/forget-logic-and-use-lateral-thinking-to-innovate-4ca8fc0f724c

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