Lateral thinking

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Lateral thinking, sometimes described as structured creativity or sideways thinking, is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono.


  • Lateral thinking is closely related to insight, creativity and humour. All four processes have the same basis. But whereas insight, creativity and humour can only be prayed for, lateral thinking is a more deliberate process. It is as definite a way of using the mind as logical thinking — but a very different way.
  • Lateral thinking, also described as sideways thinking, is a term originally coined by Edward de Bono in 1967 to describe an alternative process to conventional linear thinking — one that breaks out of the habitual cognitive patterns learned at school.
    • David Cox (2012) Creative Thinking For Dummies. p. 160
  • The writer who has spent some time in the collection and subsequent analysis of material is liable to feel ready to start putting it all into a script. But the result can be disappointing if what is really needed is a story, a concept. The data may be at hand, the subject has been explored and represented, but what about the idea? It remains to be found... There is, of course, no practical system for assuring that a good idea will come next. Good ideas, feeble ideas, marvellous ideas - they all seem to have life of their own, arriving unannounced. In fact one way to discourage their visit is to be too impatient. It's not so much something you do, it's something that happens. Why then does it seem to happen more to brilliant men and women than to stupid ones? The answer may be because of the two earlier stages. Materials collected and then placed in a frame of reference are stored in memory, and the more that is accumulated the more likely the inspired short-circuit will spark. But it may not be all that accidental. What has been called 'sideways thinking' may be more a kind of relaxed mental state than a deliberate act, one that can be recognised and to some extent cultivated.
    • Paul Cronin (2005) On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director. p. 38
  • Could 'sideways thinking' be another term for what Arthur Koestler calls 'bisociation'? Koestler coined this term to describe a phenomenon he calls the 'Act of Creation'. It's the spark that ignites original concepts, an event that takes place in semi-consciousness or absent-mindedness where the mind is free-associating. Koestler likens it to a sort of mental short-circuit that sparks a connection between two hitherto unconnected frames of reference.
    • Paul Cronin (2005) On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director. p. 38
  • Sideways thinking is that way of approaching a problem from a new direction—not evolving a solution from something that already exists and not looking down upon it and breaking it up into smaller parts but actually backing off, looking at in different than normal ways and thinking from the side.
    • Evaluation Engineering (1988) Vol 27, Nr 1-6. p. 59
  • The ancient world's greatest puzzle was there, a knot that couldn't be untied. Alexander cut it in two with his sword. Lateral thinking, you see. Centuries ahead of his time.
  • Liberal Arts may ultimately prove to be the most relevant learning model... People trained in the Liberal Arts learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of apparent confusion. They have the kind of sideways thinking and cross-classifying habit of mind that comes from learning, among other things, the many different ways of looking at literary works, social systems, chemical processes or languages.
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