“On the Internet there is much misleading and erroneous information about ‘lateral thinking’. Some of the sites make false claims about me and my work. Because this is my official website I want to take this opportunity of clarifying matters regarding lateral thinking” – Edward de Bono.
I invented the term ‘lateral thinking’ in 1967. It was first written up in a book called “The Use of Lateral Thinking” (Jonathan Cape, London) – “New Think” (Basic Books, New York) – the two titles refer to the same book.
For many years now this has been acknowledged in the Oxford English Dictionary which is the final arbiter of the English Language.
There are several ways of defining lateral thinking, ranging from the technical to the illustrative.
- “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper”
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.
- “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions”
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. 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 organise the external world into the pieces we can then ‘process’.
- “The brain as a self-organising 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-organising information systems.”
This is a technical definition which depends on an understanding of self-organising information systems.
- “In any self-organising system there is a need to escape from a local optimum in order to move towards a more global optimum. The techniques of lateral thinking, such as provocation, are designed to help that change.”
This is another technical definition. It is important because it also defines the mathematical need for creativity.
Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas. Edward de Bono defines four types of thinking tools:
- Idea generating tools that are designed to break current thinking patterns—routine patterns, the status quo
- Focus tools that are designed to broaden where to search for new ideas
- Harvest tools that are designed to ensure more value is received from idea generating output
- Treatment tools that are designed to consider real-world constraints, resources, and support
Random Entry Idea Generating Tool: The thinker chooses an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary, and associates it with the area they are thinking about.
Provocation Idea Generating Tool: The use of any of the provocation techniques—wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, distortion, or arising. The thinker creates a list of provocations and then uses the most outlandish ones to move their thinking forward to new ideas.
Movement Techniques: The thinker develops provocation operations[clarification needed] by the following methods: extract a principle, focus on the difference, moment to moment, positive aspects, special circumstances.
Challenge Idea Generating Tool: A tool which is designed to ask the question “Why?” in a non-threatening way: why something exists, why it is done the way it is. The result is a very clear understanding of “Why?” which naturally leads to fresh new ideas. The goal is to be able to challenge anything at all, not just items which are problems. For example, one could challenge the handles on coffee cups. The reason for the handle seems to be that the cup is often too hot to hold directly. Perhaps coffee cups could be made with insulated finger grips, or there could be separate coffee cup holders similar to beer holders.
Concept Fan Idea Generating Tool: Ideas carry out concepts. This tool systematically expands the range and number of concepts in order to end up with a very broad range of ideas to consider.
Disproving: Based on the idea that the majority is always wrong (as suggested by Henrik Ibsen and John Kenneth Galbraith), take anything that is obvious and generally accepted as “goes without saying”, question it, take an opposite view, and try to convincingly disprove it. This technique is similar to de Bono’s “Black Hat” of the Six Thinking Hats, which looks at the ways in which something will not work.