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Main Takeaways
Reading Time: 4 minutes When we solve problems, when we ideate new concepts or when we generate new ideas, we generally choose between two different approaches: the vertical and the lateral thinking one. We do this unconsciously. Lateral thinking triggers fresh ideas by changing the frame of reference continuously. In lateral mode, we view a certain subject from different perspectives.

Lateral Thinking — How to Boost Your Creativity

Vertical and Lateral Thinking

When we solve problems, when we ideate new concepts or when we generate new ideas, we generally choose between two different approaches: the vertical and the lateral thinking one. We do this unconsciously. — However, most of the time we stay in the vertical thinking mode.

Why do we bother about all this stuff? — Vertical thinking is synonymous with logical thinking. In vertical thinking mode, we carry a chosen idea forward. We come to a solution by deducting logically one piece from the other. When thinking vertically we are analytical, careful and precise, taking the data around a problem and analysing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions.

Instead, lateral thinking triggers fresh ideas by changing the frame of reference continuously. In lateral mode, we view a certain subject from different perspectives. A lateral thinker understands vertical thinking but chooses deliberately to think outside of this bounded thought process. Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

Edward de Bono coined the term of lateral thinking first. For de Bono lateral thinking is "addressing the problem always from different perspectives." ((see Wikipedia, Lateral Thinking.)) The most prominent lateral thinking technique is his "Six Thinking Hats".

de Bono's Six Hats

Edward deBono introduced his "Six Hats" technique to address issues from all different perspectives as possible: Information: (White) – considering purely what information is available, what are the facts? Emotions (Red) – instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification). Bad points judgment (Black) – logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch. Good points judgment (Yellow) – logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony. Creativity (Green) – statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes. Thinking (Blue) – thinking about thinking.

Here is probably the best known and most celebrated of all lateral thinking puzzles. It is a true classic. And although there are many possible solutions which fit the initial conditions, only the canonical answer is truly satisfying.

The Man in the Elevator

A man lives on the tenth floor of a building. Every day he takes the elevator to go down to the ground floor to go to work or to go shopping. When he returns he takes the elevator to the seventh floor and walks up the stairs to reach his apartment on the tenth floor. He hates walking so why does he do it?

The man is a dwarf.


For example, when solving creepy riddles like Black Stories the players use lateral thinking. They focus their solution proposals from several different perspectives. The suggestions made necessarily are not related to each other nor a logical consequence. Merely, the players follow an indirect and creative approach. They throw ideas on the table that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. They jump from one option to a totally different by random — only guided by the more or less illustrative or cryptic hints of the narrator.

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Why Is Lateral Thinking Difficult?

Ok, all of us admit that lateral thinking is very helpful to support ideating new and fresh ideas. However, most of the time all of us stuck always in the vertical mode, instead. Switching from vertical to lateral thinking is extensively and takes us quite an effort. And we do it deliberately only.

Why takes us always lateral thinking quite an effort? — Why do we use lateral thinking deliberately only?

I facilitated and hosted a lot of workshops where vertical thinking was the solution and always I had to move the participants towards it. And when they made the turn they became awesome.

Although, I can presume some reasons only why we are inclined to think vertically most:

  • maybe it is an issue between occidental and oriental people? — Western people tend more to vertical thinking?
  • Western people prefer all kinds of cause-effect explanations?
  • Western people prefer provable — scientific explanations more?
  • humans like "easy answers". We prefer answers which take only few steps in a complex chain of arguments.

How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work

The magic of lateral thinking is that it breaks up your frame of thinking. However disruptive breakthroughs you get only if you break your habits and assumptions. Use the following five tricks to trigger lateral thinking in your daily work. ((Shane Snow: How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work.

  1. List the assumptions — when faced with a question (problem, challenge, etc.), write out the assumptions inherent to the question.
  2. Verbalize the convention — ask yourself "What would the straightforward approach be?". Map out the obvious, straightforward solutions. Then question the conventions: "What else would work?"
  3. Question the question — Try to rewrite the question. Rearrange the pieces to form a new scenario.
  4. Start backwards — often solving a problem is easier, when you start with the solution first, and try to work backward.
  5. Change perspective — to kickstart lateral thinking, you might do well to pretend you were someone else trying to solve the problem.


Improving Your Lateral Thinking Capabilities

Here are some techniques to foster your lateral thinking capability easily:

Agile BlackStories Teaser01

"Agile Black and White Stories", or What's The Difference between a Sprint and a Penis?

"Agile Black and White Stories" is a card game fostering your lateral thinking. It is a variant of Black Stories game. Your challenge is to identify Agile concepts by asking "Yes"/"No" questions starting from a given funny and tricky hint only.
Black Stories

"Black Stories" - Empower Your Creativity with Lateral Thinking

"Black Stories" are a gaming format where the players have to find out what had happened in a certain situation starting with an initial teaser as a hint. They are a perfect example of de Bono's Lateral Thinking. Use them to inspirit your meetings and product development
Innovation Game Workshop

Innovation Games

Innovation Games® are on real-time focused, collaborative games to engage customers and stakeholders. Playing the games is like generating feedback about a product or service. With Innovation Games you accurately predict what your customers want, need, and will pay for.
LEGO Serious Play Workshop

LEGO Serious Play

LEGO® Serious Play (LSP) is a facilitated method for strategic decision-making and problem resolution in business environments. Workshop results are always directly aligned to the business goals in focus and can be used next day at the work floor immediately. Workshop participants are all equally involved in finding the business solutions.

Further Readings

: Nicola Preti via, .