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Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is a term coined by Edward de Bono, a Maltese psychologist, physician, and writer, although it may have been an idea whose time was ready. De Bono defines Lateral Thinking as methods of thinking concerned with changing concepts and perception. He invented the term ‘lateral thinking’.

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It was first written up in a book called “The Use of Lateral Thinking”. (1967) It is similar to creative thinking. It is also seeking to solve problems by unorthodox or apparently illogical methods. “A set of systematic techniques used for changing concepts and perceptions and generating new ones”, (de Bono, 1967) “Exploring multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach.” (Infinite Innovations, 1997)

There are numerous ways of defining lateral thinking, ranging from the illustrative to the technical. First, “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper” (de Bono, 1997a) This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed. Second, “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions” (de Bono, 1997b) With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. (Wikipedia, 2006)

Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organize the external world into the pieces we can then ‘process’. (de Bono, 1994b) Third, “The brain as a self-organizing information system forms asymmetric patterns. In such systems there is a mathematical need for moving across patterns. The tools and processes of lateral thinking are designed to achieve such ‘lateral’ movement. The tools are based on an understanding of self-organizing information systems.” (de Bono, 2004). This is a technical definition which depends on an understanding of self-organizing information systems.

Fourth, “In any self-organizing system there is a need to escape from a local optimum in order to move towards amore global optimum. The techniques of lateral thinking, such as provocation, are designed to help that change.” (de Bono, 2005). This is another technical definition. It is important because it also defines the mathematical need for creativity. 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 relate lateral thinking to problems are characterized by the shifting of thinking patterns away from predictable or entrenched 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. (Harleys, 2004) 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. Some times a problem cannot be solved by removing its cause.” (de Bono, 1994a)

Lateral thinking can be used to help in solving problems but can also be used for much more. (Wikipedia, 2006) With ‘parallel thinking’ both sides (or all parties) are “thinking in parallel in the same direction.” (Davis, 2005) There is co-operative and co-ordinate thinking. The direction itself can be changed in order to give a full scan of the situation. But at every moment each thinker is thinking in parallel with all the other thinkers. There does not have to be agreement. Statements or thoughts which are indeed contradictory are not argued out but laid down in parallel. In the final stage the way forward is ‘designed’ from the parallel thought that have been laid out. (Davis, 2005)


An easy and convenient way of carrying out ‘parallel thinking’ is the Six Hats method which is now being used commonly worldwide both because it speeds up thinking and also because it is so much more constructive then conventional argument thinking. (de Bono, 2005) The use of the Six Hats method is now growing speedily globally. Those who have become familiar with the technique look back at argument as primitive, crude and ego-driven. (de Bono, 2002)

“With the Six Hats method you can still show off. But you now show off by performing better than anyone else under each hat. It is no longer a matter of proving someone else to be wrong. Our ingrained habits of critical disagreement are so often not just a matter of sensible caution, but a mixture of ‘power plays’ and ego strutting.” (de Bono, 2003) On the other hand, there is a necessary and proper place for caution. “That place is provided by the ‘black hat’.” Under this hat every person sets out to look for dangers, risks, shortfalls, problems, etc. Even those who most like the idea make a authentic effort to recognize the faults. Power plays have no place. There is no longer an chance to show that some particular individual is wrong or that you are smarter than that person. (de Bono, 2003)

There are six symbolic hats, each one a diverse color. The thinker wears one hat at a time and only uses the mode of thinking which goes with that particular color. “The white hat is neutral.” While wearing this hat, the thinkers simply focus on information. What information is available on the subject, and what is missing? “The red hat signifies emotion and intuition – aspects of human thinking which are traditionally excluded from ‘rational’ discussion. But since they still exist, they often get expressed indirectly.” The red hat allows them to be expressed usefully and openly. “The black hat puts the thinkers into the role of judge.” Wearing this hat, they assess the risks associated with an idea and see how the idea fits with what is already known (our values, experience, objectives, etc.). (de Bono, 2003)

“The yellow hat brings out the positive side of assessing an idea.” With this hat on, the thinkers look for the values and benefits in an idea. As with the black hat, the thinkers have to use logic when wearing the yellow hat.  “The green hat signals deliberate creative effort.” Under this hat all the possibilities can be discovered, using precise techniques of lateral thinking, like provocation. This is an chance for vision. Lastly, the “blue hat is there for the overview.” (de Bono, 2003)  It is typically worn by the person chairing a meeting but can be used by anyone. The process of thinking is managed with this hat and all the different threads drawn together. (Hellers, 2006)

How can it be applied to the corporate world?

Lateral thinking is of very great importance in such a way that it gives a new and an alternative way of solving a problem. By the use of lateral thinking, an individual can recognize dominant ideas that polarize perception of a problem, the person can search for different ways at looking things, can have a complete control of rigid thinking, can use a chance to encourage other ideas. Lateral thinking can also be applied in human problem solving. Lateral thinking can be used in the management development. This lateral thinking can be greatly used in schools where in de Bono had also done his study(. Curtin, 2004)

Lateral thinking is also perfect for: Groups in need of new thinking like companies with an “innovation” initiative in need of tools that actually work; Professionals in the new idea development business — R&D, PD, marketing, advertising; Executives feeling the heat, same old, same old just isn’t working anymore; Teams frustrated with old predicable ideas that keep surfacing in their creative thinking meetings, Scientists and engineers who need systematic tools to break open their thinking; Proactive people that want to strengthen their Innovation Instinct— their ability to generate, build on and implement valuable new ideas. Human resource / Organization development professionals needing tools to facilitate ideation meetings; (de Bono Thinking Systems, 2006)

Lateral thinking will also help individuals to develop skills to: Increase productive idea output; Design the future; Find fresh new solutions to intractable problems; Escape the constraints of routine thinking; Appreciate the diversity of thinking among team members; Plan and lead innovation meetings that deliver powerful results; Secure company’s leadership edge; Find new areas of opportunity. (de Bono, 2004)

Hence, Lateral thinking is an alternative way to solve problem in a different approach. It could also greatly help in strengthening your business with fresh new thinking bringing innovative solutions to life. Lateral Thinking provides a flexible framework with systematic creativity tools so that you can.


de Bono, E. (1994) Parallel Thinking. London: Viking.

de Bono, E. (1994b) The Teaching of Thinking: Why and How? In J.Edwards (ed.) Thinking: International Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Melbourne: Hawker Brownlow, 45-55.

de Bono, E. (2004) “Parallel Thinking: the Six Hat Methods”. Retrieved from: http://www.thinkingmanagers.com/management/parallel-thinking.php

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2006) “Lateral Thinking” Retrieved 12 October from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateral_thinking

de Bono, E. (2005) Parallel Thinking and Lateral Thinking. The De Bono Library.  Retrieved October 2006, from: http://www.edwdebono.com/debono/lateral.htm

Infinite Innovations. (1997) “Definition of creative, creative thinking, parallel and brainstorming”. Retrieved from: http://www.brainstorming.co.uk/tutorials/definitions.html

Curtin, L. (2004) “Lateral Thinking Systematic Creativity Tools”. Retrieved from: http://www.lyndacurtin.com/programs/lateral_thinking/lateral_thinking_index.asp

de Bono, E. (1997a) “Effective Thinking: a General Course”. Retrieved from http://www.edwdebono.com/course/index.htm

de Bono, E. (1997b) “Lateral Thinking: TIP Theories, Psychological”. Retrieved from: http://tip.psychology.org/debono.html

Hellers, M. (2006). “Serious Creativity”. Retrieved from http://www.sixhats.com.html

de Bono, E. (1995) “Idea Focus”. Retrieved from http://www.ideafocus.com/products/serious/_serious.html

de Bono, E, 2004, “De Bono Consulting: A Division of Resources Unlimited”. Retrieved from: http://www.debonoconsulting.com/Lateral_Thinking.asp

Davis, A. (2005) “Timothy Mcsweeney’s: Developing Your Lateral Thinking Skills”. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2004/12/1stallard.html

de Bono, E. (2006) “Practical, Radical and Innovative Thinking Systems”. http://www.debonothinkingsystems.com/home.htm

Harleys, C. (2004) “Creative Tools: A Creative Process, Mind Tools, Essential Skills for an Excellent Career”. Retrieved from: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_00.htm

de Bono Thinking Systems. (2002) de Bono for Business. Retrieved from” http://www.debonoforbusiness.com/asp/lateral_thinking.asp

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