What is lateral thinking and how to boost it

What is lateral thinking and how to boost it

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant" Albert Einstein

We are used to commonly use and train the call vertical thinking, that way of thinking centered on acquired learning and whose responses always follow the same pattern. This is the kind of thinking that makes us focus on study contexts, for example. The ability to learn and solve problems through what has been learned. But there is another very important way of thinking that forms the basis of creativity and should be trained in the same way or even to a greater extent: lateral thinking.


  • 1 What is lateral thinking?
  • 2 Differences between vertical thinking and lateral thinking
  • 3 What is lateral thinking for?
  • 4 How to enhance lateral thinking

What is lateral thinking?

The lateral thinking it is a different way of reasoning and solving problems in which a creative and indirect approach. The ideas formed through lateral thinking are not usually obtained with the kind of classical vertical reasoning in which there is a staggered construction of ideas, a step-by-step approach. In lateral thinking, on the contrary, the straight line of traditional reasoning is left behind and the commitment to flexibility of thought to find new solutions, looking for "side by side" ideas fleeing from the rigidity and finding new original ideas.

This concept was popularized by the Oxford psychologist Edward Bono In 1967 and since then, his training has been used in numerous contexts, such as business and creative. Edward Bono associates lateral thinking with humor, in which he explains, there is a change of pattern from one idea to another that is not linear but unexpected and lateral, a new idea that by its originality is surprising and makes people laugh, beyond of the typical logical thinking.

Differences between vertical thinking and lateral thinking

Vertical thinking

It is the one we use using a logic acquired through experience. It is a way of solving problems that we have learned through the practice and analysis of our actions, an analysis that decreases the more solid our knowledge. For example, when we start driving a car, at first all the stimuli to take into account can overwhelm us and the fact of taking each step effectively can seem very complicated, so we usually analyze everything we are doing conscientiously. As we have learned more and more, driving becomes an automatic task that hardly requires a great cognitive effort. At this point, we don't usually use any kind of creativity To solve any problem, but we use our acquired knowledge to do so, we use our vertical thinking that brings us results step by step.

Lateral thinking

This type of thinking, on the other hand, does not follow a straight line of steps and stored information to reach a desired conclusion. East look for parallel ideas and associations that are not obvious in everyday life and that lead to creativity and innovation. Starting from a base, lateral thinking escapes all mental rigidity and immerses itself in the spontaneity and originality of completely new ideas.

What is lateral thinking for?

Lateral thinking allows us to improve our creativity and find new answers to any facet of life. Some of the situations in which using lateral thinking can be an advantage are:

To solve problems

Lateral thinking can be beneficial to find different alternatives and paths that make us solve problems in the most effective way possible. When we face an unexpected mishap that we do not know how to solve through our vertical thinking, using imagination is essential to achieve our goals and this can be trained through lateral thinking.

Find new ways of doing things

Making us always do things in the same way, both in work and personal contexts, can limit us a lot when it comes to reaching our goals. Thinking in a grid only encloses us in a protocol of actions programmed that do not allow us to go further. Lateral thinking and its techniques can improve our way of doing things through the discovery of new ideas.

Create and innovate

To create you have to start sometimes from scratch and this can block many people who do not feel safe from their creative ability. Training lateral thinking can provide security and become more proactive people in front of that "blank page". The basis of creation and social evolution is closely related to this way of thinking, which can cause us to pass on learned patterns.

How to enhance lateral thinking

Lateral thinking allows us to move from a known idea to completely new ones. This can be trained in different ways. Some of the most used tools to train lateral thinking are:

Generation of random ideas

This is a training tool that is based on start from a random concept or object and generate from it an association with another programmed idea. For example, according to Bono we could imagine that we start from a word chosen at random as "nose" and we have to try to associate it with a previous idea like "photocopier". From here, new ideas should be generated to associate one concept and another, such as that the photocopier “could produce a lavender smell and warn that there is no paper left”, even if it sounds not logical.

Focus tools

This training is based on learn to change our focus towards details that could normally go unnoticed. Paying attention to those details can make new associated ideas appear that would never have occurred to us previously. For example, imagine that you want to come up with a car advertisement. What if instead of focusing on the characteristics of the car we focus on the philosophy of life that we believe the drivers of the car value? From here we link it with a star like Bruce Lee and use his philosophy as a slogan: "Be water, my friend", remains one of the most used bushes twelve years after the announcement of BMW.

Tools to break the established

With these Bonds, we try to challenge our mind to go beyond the limits we have established through our previous learning. It is based on the premise that there may be a better way of doing things even when there are no problems with the way we do them today. It's about striving to give new solutions to old problems in an original way. For example, imagine that you have studied guitar years at a music school where you have been taught to master all techniques to near perfection. What would happen if you started doing things differently? You could start using effects and distortions like Jimmy Hendrix or mix styles and use bows like Jimmy Page, and end up being considered one of the best guitarists in history.

Provocation tools

The provocations are statements that despite being or appear to be incorrect, generate new ideas that break the established. The ways to reach provocation can range from exaggeration, distortion, illusion or escape. With this tool we try to generate a list of provocations from an idea, with the purpose of moving towards innovative fields.

Don't miss our Side Thought puzzles

Links of interest

What Is Lateral Thinking ?. Dr Edward de Bono. //

How lateral thinking can help us find better ideas. Dr Edward de Bono. //

Forget Logic And Use Lateral Thinking To Innovate. Anastasia Anokhina. //

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