How lateral thinking can help us find better ideas

Jun 29 2009 by Edward de Bono Print This Article

The whole purpose of lateral thinking is to allow us to cut across patterns and to find new ideas. As with all creativity, the ideas must be valuable and logical in hindsight.

This is what occurs in an asymmetric system. Something might be invisible in foresight, but obvious and logical in hindsight. This fact was never observed by traditional philosophers, who were busy playing around with words rather than understanding the behaviour of self-organising information systems.

You can learn the formal techniques of lateral thinking. Specific training programmes exist for this purpose (there are around 1,200 certified trainers around the world). You can then practise the techniques and hone your personal skills.

When a new idea is required in a specific area, you can train yourself to switch on your 'lateral thinking mode' and then use your creative skill.

There is a belief that new thinking is only required when a problem exists that cannot otherwise be solved. While it is true that creative thinking could be your only hope if a problem can't be solved, that is by no means the only - or even the most important - use of creative thinking.

If you have a problem and you are able to solve it, there is great value in using creative thinking to find other possible solutions. These might be cheaper, easier to use or offer more value. There is no reason to assume that the first solution is the only solution or even the best one.

There is an even more important use of creative thinking, and that is when there is no problem at all.

If a concept or a method of doing things has always been quite satisfactory, it never gets any thinking attention because it is believed that it does not need such attention. If it works well then why mess with it? Or, as the saying goes, if isn't broken then why fix it?

But the result of this kind of thinking is that many procedures continue in the old way when newer technology or newer market conditions make it possible to find a much better approach.

Something might work reasonably well but that does not mean that there cannot be a much better way of doing it.

If we continue to believe that creative thinking is only needed to solve problems then we miss out on opportunities.

There is a need for a regular review of all existing procedures and concepts to make sure that they are not 'blocking' better ideas. And those better ideas can be produced with the help of lateral thinking.

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About The Author

Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono

Edward de Bono (1933-2021) was a leading authority in the field of creative thinking. Over 35 years after the publication of his first book, "The Mechanism of Mind", the basic principles he outlined are now mainstream thinking in the mathematics of self-organising systems and in the design of neuro-computers. His many subsequent books have been translated into 26 languages.