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What is lateral thinking?

Explore the techniques and insights that can liberate your mind from traditional thought patterns and ignite creativity.

Last Friday, during the Founders Day celebration, the guest speaker emphasised the importance of nurturing students creativity and critical thinking skills. He briefly touched upon the concept of lateral thinking, popularised by Maltese physician and psychologist Edward de Bono, which piqued the interest of some attendees. To delve deeper into this intriguing concept, they invited Anish’s father, a writer for a neighbourhood newspaper, to share some key insights.

Thinking is a skill

Anish’s father commenced his presentation by introducing Edward de Bono’s renowned book, Lateral Thinking Creativity Step by Step. This book, among the author’s prolific output of over 70 titles, stood out as the most popular. Two other notable works by de Bono, Six Thinking Hats and Parallel Thinking, were also mentioned. Importantly, de Bono was credited with being a pioneer in introducing the subject of thinking in schools. The central focus of the authors work, as explained by the speaker, revolved around the distinction between two types of thinking thinking and lateral thinking. To set the stage, the speaker clarified what thinking is, emphasising that, according to de Bono, thinking is a skill that can be developed and improved. This definition helped in dispelling the notion that it was a cognitive skill reserved for a select few.

Vertical thinking and lateral thinking

Vertical thinking, as defined by de Bono, is linear, sequential, and logical thinking that progresses from step A to step B to step C. It adheres to established pathways. insisting that each step is correct. While effective, de Bono sees it as an incomplete process and criticises the education system for predominantly promoting vertical thinking.

In stark contrast, lateral thinking. as envisioned by de Bono, is non-linear, imaginative, and unconventional. It involves looking at problems from different angles and generating new ideas by breaking free from conventional thinking patterns. The speaker cited de Bono’s statement. “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper,” to illustrate the difference between vertical and lateral thinking.

The differences

De Bono dedicated an entire chapter to distinguishing these two forms of thinking. highlighting their differences. such as selectiveness vs. generality. analysis vs. provocation. sequential vs. jumps, and the requirement for correctness at every step vs. a probabilistic approach. De Bono stressed that both forms of thinking are not antagonistic but complementary. To make lateral thinking accessible to all, de Bono emphasised that it was not a magical system but could be adopted in a practical and deliberate manner.

How to develop lateral thinking?

He presented various techniques for developing lateral thinking. including generating alternatives, challenging assumptions.

suspending judgments, exploring different approaches, using the reversal method to trace idea development and engaging in brainstorming for cross-stimulation of ideas. Lateral thinking is particularly crucial in liberating the mind from rigid educational patterns. The realisation of the distinctions between vertical and lateral thinking can empower individuals to use them effectively. Engaging in activities like riddles, word games, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or brain teasers can help train the brain to think laterally, the speaker noted He concluded his speech by quoting from the book’s preface, suggesting that it should be worked through slowly over an extended period, making it a must-read for everyone.

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