What is lateral thinking?

We explain what lateral thinking is, the elements that compose it and its characteristics. Also, some simple examples.

  1. What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is known as a form of mental reasoning that allows the resolution of problems through the application of imaginative or creative solutions.

The term was first used in 1967, in the book by Edward de Bono New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking , as the name of a thought pattern that is governed by paths other than those employed by traditional logical reasoning (then called “Vertical thinking”), thus giving new perspectives to any situation.

Since then, this term has become popular in the fields of individual and social psychology , as a tool to encourage thinking outside the usual or expected patterns.

Its central idea can be summed up in that, when evaluating the premises of any problem, we generally look for some natural or habitual pattern of thought to find a solution. Thus we arrive at the same result over and over again.

Lateral thinking, then, aspires to break these patterns and look for alternative, different paths that lead to the resolution of the problem. It is what the English speakers call Think outside the box (“think outside the box”).

In this way, the theory of lateral thinking proposes that by applying this model of thought to our daily dilemmas, we could trigger change and find novel, highly creative responses to dilemmas that we had been solving in a habitual way.

To do this, we would require training in this type of reasoning, which usually involves facing a series of riddles very similar to the koan of the Zen tradition.

  1. Characteristics of lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is based on the distancing of traditionally traveled mental paths . That is, it requires the break with the expected and the commitment to creativity and innovative perspectives.

In that sense, it goes to methods and techniques that are not normally associated with organized thinking, such as provocations, which are a kind of mental “games” intended to find alternative ways of reasoning. Some provocations can be dynamic escapes, random words, analogies, exaggerations or fractionations of the problem.

In any case, lateral thinking aspires to be a problem-solving technique, but at the same time a path towards a different, more flexible logic , capable of adapting to each situation it faces and not always resorting to the same toolbox. to face different problems from each other.

  1. Elements of lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is based on four basic or fundamental elements:

  • The assumptions check . Something similar to what we commonly understand by “keeping an open mind”: distrust the immediate values, prejudices and previous reasoning that arise from the initial exposition of the premises of the problem, since they are common places, encapsulate thinking and prevent the creativity.
  • The formulation of the right questions . Lateral thinking suggests that, instead of focusing on the solution, we must first find the relevant questions, and thus know what kind of answer we need. This is often seen as an inverse and counterintuitive perspective: think about the question and not the answer.
  • The entrance of creativity . Change and creative perspectives are valued by lateral thinking, since by incorporating elements that normally do not seem part of the set, new areas can be illuminated, part of a new dynamic can be found or simply provide a new approach or perspective.
  • The logical thinking . Logical deduction, rigor of thinking and the ability to interpret are the active core of lateral thinking, to which all creative perspectives or alternative reasoning should lead.
  1. Simple examples of lateral thinking

lateral thinking examples dilemma
Lateral thinking allows us to consider more options than usual.

Below we will see five simple examples of lateral thinking, expressed as riddles:

  • The shipwrecked dilemma . A shipwrecked man needs to move some wrecks of his ship to his island of residence, which emerged on the shore of the opposite island. There you have a fox, a rabbit and a bunch of carrots, which you can take in your boat at the rate of one per trip. How can you take it all to your island, without the fox eating the rabbit, or the fox eating carrots?

Answer : You should take the rabbit first and leave the fox with the carrots. Then go back and take the fox, who will leave alone on his island, take the rabbit and take him back to the one in front. Then he will take the carrots, leaving the rabbit alone and depositing them next to the fox. Finally he will return to make one last trip with the rabbit.

  • The elevator dilemma . A man who lives on the tenth floor of a building, takes the elevator every day to the ground floor, to go to work. In the afternoon, however, take the same elevator again, but if there is no one with it, go down on the seventh floor and climb the rest of the floors up the stairs. Why?

Answer : The man is a dwarf and fails to press the tenth floor button.

  • The paradox of the globe . How can we prick a balloon with a needle, without air leaking and without the balloon exploding?

Answer : We must prick the balloon while deflated.

  • The dilemma of the bar . A man enters a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender searches under the bar and suddenly points to the man with a gun. The latter thanks and leaves. What just happened?

Answer : The bartender noticed that the man had hiccups, and decides to treat him by giving him a good scare.

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