Managing Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was promulgated in 1967 by Edward de Bono. He cites as an example the Judgment of Solomon, where King Solomon resolves a dispute over the parentage of a child by calling for the child to be cut in half, and making his judgment according to the reactions that this order receives. Edward de Bono also links lateral thinking with humour, arguing there’s a switchover from a familiar pattern to a new, unexpected one. It is in this moment of surprise that generates laughter and new insight which demonstrates an ability to see a different thought pattern that initially was not obvious.

Managing Lateral Thinking

To understand lateral thinking, it is necessary to compare lateral thinking and critical thinking. 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. Edward de Bono defines four types of thinking tools:

(1) Idea-generating tools intended to break current thinking patterns—routine patterns, the status quo

(2) Focus tools intended to broaden where to search for new ideas

(3) Harvest tools intended to ensure more value is received from idea generating output

(4) Treatment tools that promote consideration of real-world constraints, resources, and support.

Random Entry Idea Generating Tool

The thinker chooses an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary, and associates it with the area they are thinking about. De Bono gives the example the randomly-chosen word “nose” being applied to an office photocopier, leading to the idea that the copier could produce a lavender smell when it was low on paper, to alert staff.

Provocation Idea Generating Tool

A provocation is a statement that we know is wrong or impossible but is used to create new ideas. De Bono gives an example of considering river pollution and setting up the provocation “the factory is downstream of itself”; this leads to the idea of forcing a factory to take its water input from a point downstream of its output, an idea which later became law in some countries.[6] Provocations can be set up by 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.

Movement Techniques

One can move from a provocation to a new idea by the following methods: extract a principle, focus on the difference, moment to moment, positive aspects, special circumstances.

Challenge Idea Generating Tool

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.

Concept Fan Idea Generating Tool

Ideas carry out concepts. This tool systematically expands the range and number of concepts in order to end up with a very broad range of ideas to consider.


Lateral thinking techniques provide a deliberate, systematic process that results in innovative thinking. By using these unconventional thinking techniques, lateral thinking enables you to find creative solutions that you may otherwise not consider.

Below are seven techniques to help you elicit creative ideas that can be both novel and useful solutions to a problem.

(1) Alternatives: Use concepts to breed new ideas

(2) Focus: Sharpen or change your focus to improve your creative efforts

(3) Challenge: Break free from the limits of accepted ways of doing things

(4) Random Entry: Use unconnected input to open new lines of thinking

(5) Provocation and Movement: Move from a provocative statement to useful ideas

(6) Harvesting: Select the best ideas and shape them into practical solutions

(7) Treatment of Ideas: Strengthen and shape ideas to fit an organization or situation

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