Lateral thinking

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Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono, for the solution of problems through an indirect and creative approach. Lateral thinking is about reasoning that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

The term first appeared in the title of de Bono's book New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking, published in 1967.


[edit] Methods

Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the truth value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.

There are four types of "thinking tools" defined in Edward de Bono's Lateral Thinking: The Power of Provocation manual:[1]

  • Idea generating tools that are designed to break current thinking patterns - routine patterns, the status quo
  • Focus tools that are designed to broaden where to search for new ideas
  • Harvest tools that are designed to ensure more value is received from idea generating output
  • Treatment tools that are designed to consider real-world constraints, resources, and support

[edit] Idea generating tools

Random Entry Idea Generating Tool: Choose an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary, and associate that with the area you are thinking about.

For example imagine you are thinking about how to improve a web site. Choosing an object at random from an office you might see a fax machine. A fax machine transmits images over the phone to paper. Fax machines are becoming rare. People send faxes directly to phone numbers. Perhaps this could be a new way embed the web site's content in emails and other sites.

Provocation Idea Generating Tool: choose to use any of the provocation techniques - wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, or arising. Create a list of provocations and then use the most outlandish ones to move your thinking forward to new ideas.

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.

For example you could challenge the handles on coffee cups. The reason for the handle seems to be that the cup is often too hot to hold directly. Perhaps coffee cups could be made with insulated finger grips, or there could be separate coffee cup holders similar to beer holders.

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.

Focus, harvesting and treatment tools round out the lateral thinking tool kit. It's not enough to just generate ideas. We have to do something productive with them in order to build value. These tools do that.

[edit] Lateral thinking and problem solving

Problem Solving: A level of performance is being met. Something happens which creates a problem - performance drops. We need to find out what caused the problem and then figure out ways to fix the problem. The objective is to get performance back to where it should be.

For Example: A production line has an established run rate of 1000 books per hour. All of a sudden the run rate drops to 839 books per hour. Something happened, we don't know what problem caused the production rate to drop by 161 books per hour. We need to find out and fix the problem so we can get back to producing 1000 books per hour. Problem solving is focused on closing this performance gap.

Creative Problem Solving: The objective is to find ways to create new levels of performance that we haven't reached before.

For Example: We routinely produce 1000 books per hour on our production line. In this example creative problem solving could be directed at: finding ways to produce 1500 books per hour; finding other ways to use the production line; finding ways to reduce the cost to run the production line, etc.

Lateral Thinking is a method/tool kit that can be applied during the problem solving and creative problem solving processes to help come up with possible workable solutions.

[edit] See also

[edit] Books

[edit] References

  1. ^ Published in 2006 by de Bono Thinking Systems
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