Tag Archives: . Lateral thinking

Find a new angle – lateral thinking

This is the next post in the Thinking Styles Series

Lateral thinking

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, our thinking styles can often get in the way of moving forward, particularly in messy situations. Our natural instinct is to think about things in a logical and systematic way but often this can trap us into reaching inappropriate conclusions.

Edward De Bono

Lateral Thinking was first proposed by Edward De Bono in 1967 – I came across the idea a few years later. The concept is to come at your problem or situation from different angles, to challenge the [often unstated] assumptions built into your thinking and seek multiple alternative approaches.

There are strong parallels to some of the ideas put forward in Creative Thinking and it would be easy to dismiss this way of thinking as a sub-set of those ideas, but the concepts are stronger than that. I don’t propose to go into details here because the ideas are easily followed up via the author’s websites. Read Dr De Bono’s own explanation here.

It is, however, critical to recognise that logical thinking will sometimes get in the way and sometimes lead us inappropriate conclusions. This example demonstrates the differences between lateral and logical thinking – revealing a strategy for success which would never be found by conventional thinking.

Vaccinate your thinking processes

In his book, Dr De Bono quotes the case of the switch in thinking styles which allowed Edward Jenner to discover the route to vaccination against Smallpox. Whilst others focused on why sufferers got Smallpox, Jenner turned his attention to asking why milkmaids seemed to be immune to the infection. He postulated that the similar but less aggressive disease of Cowpox provided immunity against smallpox

That “simple” switch of focus allowed a means of preventing this horrific disease to be found and as we now know it has been eradicated.

So when you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, why not stand to one side, ask some probing questions about what is and what is not and see if there is a new angle to attack your challenge.

Dare to be different

It is also worthwhile to build lateral thinking into your strategy development and marketing because if you adopt a purely logical approach, you are likely to do the same as your competitors!

Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking

When you are faced with a critical decision in your business, you probably recognise that you will need to give it some thought but how often do you think about how you need to think about the issues involved?

That’s right! Do you think about how you need to think?

In his seminal work, Six Thinking Hats, Dr Edward de Bono highlighted the need for different modes of thinking at different points in the process and in particular the need for everyone involved to be thinking in the same way at the same time.

I’d like to build on that idea by suggesting eight key thinking styles that you should apply to any critical decision you need to make – I call this Pivotal Thinking. The key themes are outlined below and each will be explored in detail in subsequent postings.

The thinking styles are:

  1. Critical
  2. Strategic
  3. Creative
  4. Systemic
  5. Project
  6. Lateral
  7. Process
  8. Reflective

Critical Thinking

This style is particularly useful for examining information and testing assumptions. It is exemplified by the approach of Henry Fonda’s character [Juror #8] in “12 Angry Men”, probing, challenging and taking nothing for granted.

Strategic Thinking

This approach is crucial for looking at the big picture and long term. It means standing back from the detail and looking at aims, objectives, trends and capabilities. It also means looking at opportunities, threats and options from the perspective of all stakeholders.

Creative Thinking

To get ahead of your competition, avoid getting into a rut and find better answers to the challenges you face, you need to think creatively. Contrary to popular opinion, this can be helped by a structured approach which balances and sequences divergent and convergent thinking, selecting appropriate tools and techniques at each stage.

Systemic Thinking

You probably learned to think systematically at school / university but sometimes there is a need to think about the system as a whole, the interactions between the various parts and the causes and consequences of particular options. This style goes hand in glove with both strategic and creative thinking.

Project Thinking

Managing projects needs a different style of thinking to most management situations. Project thinking requires you to pay attention to the sequence of events, the flow of information and the interactions between events. It is highly relevant to the implementation of strategy and requires focus on objectives, roles and resources.

Lateral Thinking

Your closest competitors are likely to come up with similar strategies and solutions to those you arrive at through logical analysis, so it can be useful to use lateral thinking to arrive at better, non-intuitive solutions. This thinking style, invented by Dr Edward de Bono, encourages you to arrive at better solutions by attacking the issue from completely different perspectives and often through an intermediate unworkable solution.

Process Thinking

In many cases, it can be very useful to use these thinking styles in combination or in appropriate sequences. This is where process thinking comes in – a bit like the Blue Hat in Six Thinking Hats, it will help you select the right thinking style for the situation and decided on the order in which to apply them [and recycle if necessary]

Reflective Thinking

To help you learn and benefit from previous experience, it can be useful to adopt a reflective thinking style. This will allow you to look at what you have done in the past and the results you have got. If you combine it with a critical approach, you may get to the real causes of past failures and successes and develop much improved approaches.

So the next time you think you need to think about something – think first about how you need to think.

Think about it!