Edward de Bono (born 1933) is a psychologist and physician. De Bono writes prolifically on subjects of lateral thinking, a concept he pioneered and now holds training seminars in. Both lateral thinking and vertical thinking are concerned with effectiveness. Whenever a solution is found by lateral thinking one can always, with hindsight, see how it could have been arrived at by vertical thinking. But looking back in hindsight, is quite different from finding the solution by that route.
The most famous example is that of the skyscraper built with too few lifts with the result that people became very impatient queuing at peak times. What do you do? Put extra lifts on the outside of the building, put a new lift shafts through the existing floors, stagger working hours?
The lateral thinking answer was to install floor to ceiling mirrors in each lift lobby.
It solved the problem. How? Well you think about it!
De Bono has distinguished between lateral thinking and vertical thinking, the latter being a logical process. In effect the two forms of thinking go together. Lateral thinking is just a little like intuition in that it involves a creative leap without a logical process. Newton’s idea of gravity is a little like this. Before Newton, people had the idea that the natural state of things was to be stationary and what was needed was an explanation of motion. Newton said that the natural state is motion and that what we needed to understand is why things stopped. (Getting your head under a falling apple stops it fairly quick!) Thus, lateral thinking produces the idea and then vertical thinking tests it – the scientific method or creating an hypothesis and then testing it.
De Bono proposes five ways to help one think laterally:
- avoid cliche
- challenge assumptions
- generate alternatives
- jump to new ideas
- then follow them to a conclusion
- enter the problem from a new direction.
Such thinking processes are not normal in business which lives on cliche and jargon, likes to start from well trodden paths and is suspicious of new ideas. However, they are the processes necessary for the knowledge industry of the future.