Creativity Tips
Begin with the end in mind


 
 

Lateral Thinking

"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way." Edward de Bono

Lateral thinking is moving sideways to try different approaches to a problem solution. If logic fails, try intuition. If intuition fails, ask a friend or teacher? As you go to sleep, ask the Dreamland Hollywood producers responsible for your dreams to produce a clarifying one just before you awake.

Granny is sitting knitting and three-year-old Susan keeps upsetting Granny. One parent suggests putting Susan into her playpen. The other suggests putting Granny in the playpen. That's lateral thinking.

Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, visited a zen monk in Japan, who asked Fritz, "What is the colour of wind?" Fritz gently blew air in the monk's face. That's lateral thinking.

Bunsen, a chemist, used the colour of a chemical sample in a gas flame to determine the elements it contained. He complained to a physicist friend, Kirchhof, about the shortcomings and inaccuracies of his efforts. Kirchhof suggested using a prism to separate the entire spectrum of light into quantifiable information. This led to the science of spectography, the application to the light emitted by stars, and the modern science of cosmology. That was lateral thinking.

To think laterally, it's helpful to stop a frustrating line of effort, and say to yourself, where's the back door into this problem? How can I turn this around? Inside out? Backwards? Come at it from a different area of knowledge?

Below is Edward De Bono's useful five-step process for problem-solving. There are however different types of problem and they require different thinking styles in order to crack them. Here are some problems to give you a bit of practice. The retrograde chess problems do not require you to be a chess expert; just a logical thinker (though you need to know how the pieces move). The Lateral Thinking problems require a different approach - you have to think of the answer first, and then figure out why it fits the facts.

  • TO - Where do you want to get To? (Definition)
  • LO - Look at the Problem. (Logical Analysis)
  • PO - Possible Solutions (Generate Possibilities)
  • SO - So what shall we Do? (Make your Decision)
  • GO Get Going (The Implementation Phase)

The above model is very useful when it comes to real-life problems; the sort of problems that have many possible solutions. Certain problems really have a single solution and therefore will yield to analysis (LO phase).

With many problems, we tend to get stuck at the PO phase - we call this lack of inspiration. Lateral thinking is a technique designed to help us improve our ability to creatively access solutions we might normally discount as possibilites - often because the possibility seems absurd. The lateral thinking problems are designed to stimulate your ability to come up with possibilities - there can be many different solutions but there will generally be a single possibility that seems most plausible.


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