Friday, 29 August 2008

What is Lateral Thinking?.. Concept and origin

What is lateral thinking? Where does this term come from? Who are lateral thinkers? Is it a talent that one is born with? Is it a function of intelligence? Can one be taught to think laterally?
“Lateral+thinking” resulted in 7,050,000 hits on the Internet. I must be the only person in the world that does not fully understand the scope and nature of this concept.
My first exposure to this term was during the late 80’s. I was employed as a Programme Manager by an Internationally recognised research organisation, heavily involved with research, development and implementation of technology. So, I have had more than a fair share of exposure to original or creative thinking, but more of that later.
While digging around the amazing thing was that the concept of lateral thinking seems to be equated with intelligence. In other words lateral thinking is an area reserved for those who have an above average intelligence. I don't even want to go to the can of worms that defines intelligence, maybe sometime later. Anyhow, the suggestion is that average or below average people cannot think laterally. Surely this must be utter nonsense.
One of the quick answers to lateral thinking is “thinking outside the box”, an all encompassing statement that in itself can be more confusing than explanatory. I have a vivid memory of a colleague explaining the concept of lateral thinking at a management meeting. He walked up to the whiteboard and drew a rectangle. On the right hand side of the “box” he made a fat black dot. Lateral thinking was the dot, outside the box, so you have to think outside the box, which he repeated over and over. How this was to be done was not clear, but obviously important, if you want to solve a problem. ( In retrospect, he was one of the most linear thinkers I have ever worked with.)
So, lateral thinking is only for problem solvers? (More again later)
I have that sinking feeling that I have bitten off more than I can chew, not really sure where this is going to, and there is too much to post as a single post, will have to break it up into bits.
Next post will cover the origin and concept of “thinking outside the box”

I have skipped the outside the box example in favour of an example of lateral thinking.Outside the box next

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