What is Lateral Thinking? Some examples.

Paul Sloane
A free video tutorial from Paul Sloane
Author, Speaker, Lecturer on Lateral Thinking and Innovation
4.3 instructor rating • 14 courses • 10,323 students

Lecture description

Slide deck for What is Lateral Thinking?

Learn more from the full course

Master Lateral Thinking

Become a Creative Problem-Solver; Find Fresh Ideas.

01:44:24 of on-demand video • Updated April 2021

  • Become a Creative Problem-Solver and find Fresh Ideas and Solutions
  • What exactly is lateral thinking and how can you use it?
  • How conventional mindsets and assumptions hold you back
  • How to deliberately take a different point of view
  • How to use chance and random inputs to generate novel ideas
  • Best lateral brainstorm methods
  • Improve your problem solving skills
  • Boost your intelligence and creativity
English [Auto] Well, welcome to this lecture in which I'm going to ask the question, what is lateral thinking? And I'm going to answer it and I'll give you the definitions. But I'll also give you a lot of examples to show what lateral thinking is and how it's been used throughout history right up to the modern day. But let's start the little puzzle because I love puzzles and they illustrate the point quite well. So here you go. Try this little problem. What is the number of the space occupied by the car in this picture? Have a look, see if you can figure it out. This puzzle was given to 10 year olds in Singapore, most of them got it right. Can you work out the number of the space? That the car occupies. I'll give you another moment. Did you get it? Well, how many children do get it, but many adults struggle with this because they look for a mathematical relationship between sixteen six sixty eight eight eight ninety eight. They're looking all over the place for some clever relationship for this particular space. But they've started in the wrong place because the card doesn't approach the space from this side. The car approaches the space from this side. So the driver sees eighty six, eighty seven, eighty eight, eighty nine, ninety and ninety one. And the car is parked in space number eighty seven. And it's an example of lateral thinking. Conventional thinking means you come up the problem straight on lateral thinking means you take a different approach. You deliberately approach a problem from a different perspective. And that's what you've got to do here in order to solve this little puzzle. Let's go way back in history, you know, very early civilizations used pictograms, so if they wanted to represent us, tell a story, communicate something in a block of clay, they would draw pictures. Here's an example of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Chinese use pictograms and the Japanese, many other ancient civilizations. If they developed writing, it was first of all in the form of pictures. And this is OK up to a point, but you need thousands of pictures to represent all the thousands of words. Each single picture represents a single word. Therefore, you to cover a normal vocabulary of a couple of thousand words. You need two thousand different pictures. You have to remember what they mean. And if somebody sees a hieroglyph they've never seen before, they don't know how to pronounce it. So say you were trying to describe the city of tallness in the middle of the desert in Egypt. You could do a symbol for tallness, but how would anyone know how to pronounce it unless they heard somebody tell them it? And then someone somewhere came along with a brilliant idea, a lateral idea, one of mankind's greatest ideas, I believe the Alphabet and the Phoenicians had the alphabet and then the Greeks and our alphabet, the Latin alphabet that we use in the Western world, is based on the Greek alphabet, which is shown here. So you say Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta Epsilon became A, B, C, D, E in the Latin alphabet. And with this with these symbols, these little icons, you can represent the different sounds and you can write any new word. So you hear a new word, you spell it out and you can write it. And somebody else reading that word would know how to pronounce it. And they say, I've read about this new city tallness in the middle of the desert that know what how to communicate it to people who couldn't write. And so it was a tremendous step forward in enabling concise and effective communication. And it's an example of lateral thinking, a different approach in order to solve the problem. You didn't you can't develop pictograms into an alphabet. You have to start again and think of an entirely new and better way to solve the problem. The ancient Greeks had marvelous temples as well as a good alphabet. Here's the Parthenon from Athens. If you've been there, it's a marvelous, marvelous building and you can see many other brilliant ancient Greek temples. But, you know, you'll never see an arch because the Greeks didn't have the arch and neither did the Egyptians or the Aztecs or the Incas or many other ancient civilizations. They thought the best way to develop bigger buildings was with bigger columns and little cross pieces. And then some unknown stonemason in the ancient world thought perhaps there's a better way to do this. And he came up with a different approach, an arch. And with the arch you can support a greater weight in a greater space and you'll get more light into the structure. And this is an example from an ancient Roman aqueduct in the south of France. And the arch enabled the development of a much more brilliant architecture, including the Gothic cathedrals throughout Europe. And it's an example of lateral thinking in architecture, a different approach. So the Romans had the arch, the Romans also had Roman numerals and the Roman numbering system you're familiar with. So this is one hundred and nine C one away from X, take the ten, take one away from it. And this is 50 plus ten plus four. Fifty sixty four. This is ten plus five plus one 16. And this is 11. Now I want you to add these numbers together using just the Roman numerals. And it's pretty tricky, it's not an easy calculation to do because this is a sort of positive one and this is a negative one, you take this one away where you have this one on the different positions aren't consistent. So this one is something you take away from here. So manipulating this is quite tricky. And the system which replaced it, which we used in the Western world, came to us from the Indians and the Arabs, and they used a decimal system. And in the decimal system, each the position of each number is consistent. On the right is always the units and then the tens and then the hundreds and thousands and ten thousand. If you use decimal points, the tenth in the hundreds and so on, which makes it much more consistent and rational and logical. But the ancient Indian mathematicians added something quite lateral, a symbol for zero. The Romans and the Greeks did not have a symbol for zero, and consequently they couldn't leave a placeholder that was empty for calculations. And this placeholder says there are no tents here. That's one lot of hundreds, zero tens and nine units. And the addition of the zero was a very, very important step forward in mathematics and I believe a lateral step forward. Let's move much further forward, you know, Victorian shops in a Victorian shop, you go in and you'd ask the assistant for some butter or some eggs or some bacon and the assistant would go away and get each of the items you wanted and then return to the counter and serve you piece by piece for each of your items. And then when you were finished, she would serve the next person in the in the line. And then in the 1920s, a man called Michael Cullen said what would happen if we turned the shop around? And instead of the assistant serving the customer, the customer wandered around the store, help themselves to all the items they wanted in a basket and then paid at the end. And I'll bet the retail experts of the day said that's a really silly idea. Customers will want service. They'll get confused. You have to put prices on everything. But he created the world's first supermarket, the King Cullen store in New Jersey, and it became a massively successful concept. He had a lot of low priced items, a big selection. Customers could wander around and help themselves and then pay and not have to wait in line for each single item to be collected for them by an assistant. And it's not just the way we shop, it's changed the whole layout of our towns and out of town shopping centers and things, all based on the supermarket. And it's an example of lateral thinking and business finding a new approach, a different way to do things by approaching the problem from a different direction. So the person who came up with the concept of lateral thinking is Dr. Edward de Bono, who's a Maltese physician and psychologist, lecturer, academic, and in nineteen sixty seven, he wrote a book called The Use of Lateral Thinking, in which he proposed this concept. And he defined lateral thinking as containing these main elements, the challenging of assumptions and dominant ideas. If the dominant idea was hieroglyphics or was upright, you would challenge it with something new, such as an alphabet or an arch, deliberately adopting a different point of view, coming at the problem from a different direction, just like the car in the car park. You have to think of the problem from a different point of view. Displacement is a means of doing that. Use techniques to actually displace yourself from your normal approach to a new, fresh approach and many lateral thinking techniques which I will teach on this course, do just that. And finally, the use of chance, the use of random input to displace you and to incentivize you to come at the problem from an entirely random and therefore different perspective. Here's somebody who did some lateral thinking, you know, visitors to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were amazed to see a man go over the high jump ball with his back to the bar. No one had ever done that before. They've all gone over with their stomachs to the ball using the western roll of the struggle method. But Dick Fosbury said, is that just a different way to do this? Can I use a completely different approach? And he set a new world record and changed the way in which everyone else from then on did high jumps. And it's an example of lateral thinking in sport, where you come at the front from a fresh direction to do something completely different. Even more up to date in 2009, this month, Travis Kalanick was at a conference in Paris and he couldn't get a taxi. Taxis are very difficult to get in Paris. I know whether you've ever been there, but that just aren't enough of them. Now, the conventional approach would just be to say, well, I'll wait for a taxi to come along, I'll catch a bus, I'll catch the Metro, I'll walk. But he said no. Perhaps there's a different solution here. What if I could tap into all the capacity of the drivers in Paris? Would be quite happy to give me a lift for a small fee. And he created the concept of Uber. And Uber is a different approach. You can't develop a taxi company into into Uber. So it's a different concept. And very often lateral thinking involves coming up with an entirely different concept by starting from a fresh perspective, by coming at the problem from an entirely different direction. And that is what lateral thinking is. And in the subsequent lectures, we're going to go into this in more detail and I'll give you tips and techniques and methods in order to enable you to do some lateral thinking.