Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono, a Maltese psychologist, physician and writer. It first appeared in the title of his book The Use of Lateral Thinking, published in 1967. De Bono defines lateral thinking as methods of thinking concerned with changing concepts and perception. 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.

Techniques that apply lateral thinking to problems are characterized by the shifting of thinking patterns, away from entrenched or predictable thinking to new or unexpected ideas. A new idea that is the result of lateral thinking is not always a helpful one, but when a good idea is discovered in this way it is usually obvious in hindsight, which is a feature lateral thinking shares with a joke.

Edward de Bono points out that the term problem solving implies that there is a problem to respond to and that it can be resolved. That eliminates situations where there is no problem or a problem exists that cannot be resolved. It is logical to think about making a good situation, that has no problems, into a better situation. Sometimes a problem cannot be solved by removing its cause. Lateral thinking can be used to help in solving problems but can also be used for much more.

We may need to solve some problems not by removing the cause but by designing the way forward even if the cause remains in place. – Edward de Bono

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. It can also be put as, critical thinking is like a post-mortem while lateral thinking is like diagnosis.

Lateral Thinking Puzzles are also known as Situation puzzles. They are strange situations where puzzlers are given a limited amount of information and then have to ask questions of a quizmaster who can only answer yes or no. The general principles that apply when tackling lateral thinking puzzles are to check all assumptions, to remain open-minded and to be creative in questioning. The leading authors of books of Lateral Thinking Puzzles are Paul Sloane and Des MacHale who have written a series of books published by Sterling Publishing.

Here are some fun lateral thinking questions:

There is a man who lives on the top floor of a very tall building. Every day he gets the elevator down to the ground floor to leave the building to go to work. Upon returning from work though, he can only travel half of the distance up riding in the elevator and has to walk the rest of the way up unless it’s raining! How can this be?

Mel Colly stared through the dirty soot smeared window on the 26th floor of the office tower. Overcome with depression he slid the window open and jumped through it. After he landed he was completely unhurt. Since there was nothing to cushion his fall or slow his descent, how could he have survived?

There was a hotel where the visitors complained about the slow moving elevator and how long they had to wait for it to come. It became so severe that the manager was asked to do something about it. If you were the manager what would you suggest?

And here are the fun lateral thinking answers:

The man is very, very short and can only reach halfway up the elevator buttons (assuming the levels of the buttons designating floors increases from bottom to top). However, if it is raining then he will have his umbrella with him and can press the higher buttons using it. Alternatively, the man’s daily job finishes in this very building halfway up, except when it’s raining. Perhaps he’s a security guard who makes rounds floor by floor in the morning and watches a security monitor in the afternoon, except when it’s raining. It never said he takes the elevator before walking, just that he does both.

Mel Colly was so sick and tired of window washing, he opened the window and jumped inside. Alternatively, Mel’s office was in another building, on the first floor, and he was looking at the 26th-floor window of another tower. The window in the second sentence then refers to that of Mel’s office, not the 26th-floor one. Mel could also have had a balcony.

Most of us would come up with ideal answers to call the elevator service center and ask them to send someone to fix it. Warn the visitors about it. Change the system. Lateral thinking applied, a consultant advised the hotel to fix mirrors next to the elevators. This would cause people to be busy looking at themselves in the mirror and adjusting their dress, hair and may be watching someone else in the mirror. They would not feel the wait. This actually worked for the hotel, and they did not receive complaints anymore.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s