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Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step Summary (6/10)

Edward de Bono is known for his books about thinking. He coined the term “lateral thinking” that is now commonplace.

An Introduction to Lateral Thinking

De Bono wrote in the 1960’s when creativity was considered rare. He thought that lateral thinking could be an “insight tool” for solving problems. The concept of lateral thinking emerged out of his study of how brains work. Many people like to compare a brain to a computer, but de Bono disagreed, he described the brain as a space that allows information to organize itself into different patterns.

The mind’s default mode is to find patterns and think in terms of patterns – it is self-organizing. Whenever you learn anything new, you relate it to something you already know. This means that new ideas will compete against old ideas if they are to survive. But De Bono wanted to understand how you can come up with new ideas without conflict. That is the idea behind lateral thinking – a spontaneous way that allows the mind to restructure its mental patterns, to avoid being stuck in an old loop. That is basically what creativity is.

Humor is a good example of this. Stand-up comedians are creative because they help you see familiar things in a new way. The opposite of lateral thinking is vertical thinking, which is thinking in a linear, logical manner that yields the final solution from a series of correct statements. This is the hallmark of formal educational institutions.

Most of the time, vertical thinking is useful, but sometimes, with more difficult problems, we need to think “outside the box.” Lateral thinking is not the enemy of vertical thinking, but it complements it. You should use lateral thinking when you realize that vertical thinking is getting you nowhere.

How to Activate Lateral Thinking

Create alternatives: Have more choices to come up with better solutions.

Question your assumptions: The uncomfortable choice to doubt what you “know” to get out of a thinking trap.

Quotas: Come up with 10 ideas a day for a business. The more you do this, the better you become at thinking creatively.

Analogies: Make connections between the current situation and a similar situation.

Fractionation: Break something down to its components and rebuild.

Reversal thinking: Reverse how you see something.

Random stimulation: Expose yourself to ideas that are not related to the problem you want to solve. It is key to not plan what these inputs will be, but to put yourself in a chaotic environment that will expose you to thinks you could not have predicted. Examples include having a conversation with someone who has very different views, or reading something completely unrelated to your field, or even going to a location that is unfamiliar to you.

The Dominant Idea: Identify what is the main point of a book, conversation, lecture.

Brainstorming: Lays the groundwork for lateral thinking.

Suspended judgment: Entertain an idea for enough time even if it’s initially unattractive.

Be Open to Being Wrong

What keeps a lot of people from thinking creatively is having the urge to always be right. Instead, allow yourself to be wrong, but aim to be effective. The perfect can be the enemy of the good. When you come up with many potential solutions, you increase the probability that you will be right some of the time.

The essential point that De Bono makes is that information must be assembled differently if you want to generate new results. The originality of an idea is not implicit in the idea but is a function of how most people refused to deviate from traditional thinking patterns. Most people, when they think, dig themselves a deeper hole. Creative thinkers find other places to dig holes.

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"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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