Lateral Thinking

To start off with a quote from Albert Einstein Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere"

Todays education system, from kindergarten onwards students are taught to be vertical thinkers. Vertical thinking selects a solution by excluding other solutions and kills the creativity to think out of the box. The word Lateral thinking was first coined by Edward de bono. The following example, as quoted by Edward de Bono, illustrates the concept of lateral thinking in a precise way. Let us Suppose you are going in a deep forest on a stormy night and found three persons underneath a tree. One is a doctor, who saved your life when you were young, and the other is a 90-year-old woman suffering from asthma requiring immediate hospitalization, the third one is your dream girl or boy. If you have only one seat in your car besides you, what would you do? Sentimentalists, who constitute 87 per cent in this world, would prefer to take the old woman. Realists, amounting to 22 per cent, say they prefer to take the doctor, who is beneficial to society. Materialists, of course, would prefer their ideal girl or boy by their side. But, lateral thinking advocates a win-win situation to all, so "Thinking out of the box" the probable answer can be:

"How about giving your keys to the doctor and request him to take the old lady to the hospital, and you staying back with your dream girl or boy spending a beautiful stormy night in the forest?"

"How about giving your keys to the doctor and request him to take the old lady to the hospital, and you staying back with your dream girl or boy spending a beautiful stormy night in the forest?"

This is just a simple exercise that explains on the concept of lateral thinking. Lateral thinking thus means taking your thought process one step ahead. You have to move beyond your initial response. You must contemplate to solve the problem from an unexpected angle. Logic and analysis often do not work and sometimes we have to move out of our traditional conventional way to make certain decision.

Lateral thinking can be improved by applying any of these techniques:

1. Concept extraction: Willingness to look for new ideas and concepts

2. Attention Rotation: divides a problem up into parts so that one part does not create monopoly of attention

3. Cross fertilization: what another person "sees" may be a fresh and dissimilar approach.

4. Reversal of Direction

5. Random Entry: Use unconnected inputs to open new line of thinking

Another story on lateral thinking is the story of a girl who uses her wits to think out of the box and escape the clutches of money lender.

In the story the money – lender pretends to play a small game of chance. He says that there are two pebbles in a bag. If the girl picks the white pebble from the bag she will be set free. If she picks the black pebble she will have to marry him. The girl, thus has a fair chance of winning. But the girl notices that the money – lender has cheated in the game by putting two black pebbles in the bag. The girl displays presence of mind. She pretends to drop the pebble she has picked. She then points out that since the pebble left in the bag is black, she must have picked the white one. Therefore, she should be set free.

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We see examples of concept of lateral thinking executed in our day to day life. Shampoo bottle with a flip open cap, making our life easier, the pain balm in a tube rather than in a difficult to open case are all familiar examples of lateral thinking. Recently after the tsunami and the nuclear threat Japanese university has come with a concept of paneling all its building with solar panel to generate enough power to support the entire campus which is yet another brilliant example of lateral thinking.

Certainly, Lateral Thinking could be applied to both general and specific applications in all fields (physics, mathematics, political science, social system, education) where we are trying to solve non-rote undertakings (e.g., problems with fuzzy or unknown answers). There are certain areas where Lateral Thinking would not be helpful, like in situations of fixed knowledge (e.g., 1+1=2) nor would it be helpful in critical time-constrained problems where the problem solvers are unfamiliar with the Lateral Thinking concept.

Students should learn and develop on lateral thinking skills as it generates multiple paths to the solution. Using lateral thinking opens students to creativity and insight. Ideas that might have been discarded are considered and developed into feasible concepts. Students who have better lateral-thinking skills attack problems differently and remove the artificial constraints that they had previously applied to problem solving.

Let me conclude with an anecdote: Two men were on a jungle safari in Africa. Suddenly, they came across a tiger that started roaring. Both men were frightened and one of them started wearing his shoes. The other one said: "How is this going to help? We cant outrun the tiger." The first man replied: "I dont have to outrun the tiger; I only have to outrun you." Lateral thinking skills can thus save your life.