Exactly what is Lateral thinking?

My views on the nature of lateral thinking are much broader than those proposed by Edward de Bono. On this page, I will give you the most intimate understanding of the lateral thinking definition anywhere. Check out my lateral thinking lessons while you’re here. They’re 100% totally free.

“Lateral thinking is the deliberate breaking of the shackles that inhibit creative and original thinking”

Michael Muxworthy

Disruptive Author

There are many definitions of lateral thinking out there; many opinions of what lateral thinking actually is. They all seem to focus on only a part of the lateral thinking process . . . problem-solving. Lateral thinking is much more. It is the unleashing of your creative thinking potential.

What is Lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking involves the solving of problems by an indirect or creative approach, typically by viewing the problem in a new and unusual light

The phrase (or term) “lateral thinking” was first proposed by Edward de Bono way back in 1967. De Bono uses the “Judgement of Solomon” as the earliest known application of the lateral thinking principal. In that judgment, King Solomon resolved the parentage of a child between two families by proposing to cut the child in half. Of course, he awarded the child to the parents that relinquished their claim.

Lateral thinking is primarily concerned with the creation of new ideas. Yes, many of those ideas are for the purpose of solving problems. However, the understated significance of these simple, yet extremely powerful, disciplines is revealed when we consider their possibilities beyond the mere solving of problems and look at the potential creation of opportunity.

What is Lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a way of solving problems by thinking about them in different and original ways without using traditional or anticipated methods

The imagination is often used in the creative process. If we combine our imagination with the creation of opportunity, we’re basically talking about acquiring our dreams. Lateral thinking opens doors of opportunity . . . the chance to break the shackles of your preconceived ideas, restrictions, and limitations.

New creative ideas occur when two or more “ideas” are merged that you have never combined in the same way before. Creativity (or creative thinking), therefore, is the DELIBERATE combining of “ideas”.

What is Lateral thinking?

There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns

Edward de Bono – Forbes Magazine

Now, if we take this understanding of the creative thought process and see how lateral thinking relates to that process, what do we discover? Lateral thinking is a range of simple but effective tools to stimulate that creativity. Simple! Let’s look at the lateral thinking tools to confirm your understanding of this key insight into a more “whole” definition of lateral thinking.

According to Edward de Bono, there are four general categories of tools that are effective for this lateral thinking stimulation process:

  1. tools that generate ideas intended to break current thinking or routine patterns, or challenge the status quo;
  2. tools of focus intended to broaden where we search for new ideas;
  3. harvesting tools ensuring greater value is received from methods of generating ideas; and
  4. treatment tools that promote consideration of real-world constraints, resources, and support.

What is Lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking solves problems through the use of imagination. To help you realize solutions that are not obvious at first

Lateral thinking tools

More specifically, some of the more popular and proven lateral thinking tools that have come into play in modern times are:

  • Random starting points (or random entry points), (or random external stimulus technique). The example given by Edward de Bono is choosing a word like “nose” and applying that word to “photocopier”. The result is that when the photocopier is running out of paper, it emits the smell of lavender to warn the user that it is getting low on ink or paper.
  • Generation of ideas through provocation. State something outrageous, not logical or defying common sense and see where it leads. De Bono cites the consideration of river pollution with the provocation “the factory is downstream of itself”. This leads to the idea of forcing a factory to take its water input from a point downstream of its output, an idea which later became law in some countries. It is possibly the ONLY good idea ever come out of de Bono himself;
  • Movement Techniques. You can move from provocation to new idea by extracting a principle, focusing on the difference, moment to moment consideration, considering positive aspects or special circumstances. Sometimes, the lateral thinking methods proposed by Edward de Bono seem less than simple;
  • Challenging existing concepts. Ask the question “Why?” in a non-threatening way: why something exists, why it is done the way it is. The goal is to be able to challenge anything at all, I like the example of plates. Why are plates mostly round? As you realize the permutations you begin to understand the potential here;
  • The Concept Fan. This tool basically constantly expands the range and number of concepts (fanning out) in order to end up with a very broad range of ideas to consider and possibly combine; and
  • Disproving. The majority are ALWAYS in the wrong. Take anything that is obvious and generally “goes without saying”, question it, and take the opposite view. Try to convincingly disprove it. I believe that de Bono calls this his “Black Hat” in his famous book “six thinking hats”. Somebody should have pulled the hats over de Bono’s head. It is a laborious, tedious and exhaustive process that leads to conflict. I strongly recommend you deposit this method in the bin, next to the de Bono book.

What is Lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is considered to be a step by step path to creativity

Imagine yourself playing a game of chess. Your battle with an opponent is about gaining an advantage. Using logic, you move the various pieces about to achieve your aims. In chess, all the pieces on the board have assigned values or properties.

Life is often equated/compared to a game of chess. However, in life, all the pieces don’t have assigned values . . . we just believe that they do sometimes. We call this blinkered thinking. Lateral thinking was mooted by Edward de Bono way back in 1967 to help break the shackles of our blinkered thinking.

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is idea generation and problem-solving where original concepts are created by looking at things in novel ways. Logical, or vertical, thinking carries an idea forward and meets problems head-on. Lateral thinking tries to bypass problems, sidestepping through radically different approaches

Lateral thinking example

A class of students at a university are given a barometer and asked to determine the height of a new, very tall building nearing construction completion using lateral thinking. They were given a random input of a barometer, and told that the barometer must be intrinsic to the solution. What did they come up with?

  1. Some of the students used the varied reading of the barometer at the top and bottom of the building to determine an estimate of height;
  2. Other students tied a string to the barometer and lowered it from the top. They then measured the string;
  3. A few students simply went up to the building construction manager and offered to swap their barometer for the information.

Lateral thinking has a number of ways of creating fresh new thinking. By creatively combining the task of determining the height of the building with a random input, you are DELIBERATELY engaging your brain in a creative process.

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a process of using information to derive creativity of thought. It can be learned, practiced and applied. Lateral thinking is unlike the skill required to paint a masterpiece, rather it 1s more equated to the skill of learning mathematics.

Lateral thinking example

Detectives investigating crime often use a lateral thinking technique that asks that you consider the perspectives of others. In lesson 4 of my free lessons available on this website, we show how a cop that arrives at a warehouse fire finds that the rear door is forced and the safe broken into. There are no witnesses and no further clues. The cop assumes that a burglar forced the lock to the door at the back of the warehouse and then broke into the safe. Once he had the cash, he lit the fire to cover his tracks. The lateral thinking detective sees more . . . much more. Take a look at lesson 4!

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a set of systematic techniques used for changing perceptions and concepts by unusual or unorthodox means, even when the means may at first seem illogical.

Lateral thinking example

You are on a boat that runs into a reef and tears the hull open. The captain is knocked out cold. How do you stop the leak? That’s easy! You go below and find a random book, newspaper or magazine. You open at a random page and point to a random word.

Learn the lateral thinking tool of random starting points and save your captain from drowning. Take a look at lesson 2.

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is an unorthodox approach to solving problems that will often look at problems from other sides rather than head-on

Lateral thinking example

You need to spend more time with your kids. Dinner needs to be made. You need more time for other things. What do you do?

Lateral thinking will show you how to creatively combine things. The solution is to teach the kids to cook, or at least help cook. You are spending quality time with them, and eventually, the tasks that they achieve will give you more free time. Take a look at lesson 11 – Creative Combinations.

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is often referred to as the term that was coined by Maltese psychologist and physician, Dr. Edward de Bono in 1967. Edward de Bono defines lateral thinking as methods of thinking concerned with changing concepts or perception

Lateral thinking example

Try asking the question “why’?

It is my favorite lateral thinking tool because it is something that you can have a lot of fun with. Check out lesson 6 – Challenge Existing Concepts

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is a set of systematic techniques used for changing perceptions and concepts by unusual or unorthodox means, even when the means may at first seem illogical.

Lateral thinking example

The best example of how to create new ideas is when we combine two or more existing ideas. We need a place to live and we also need a car. Why not get a mobile home?


My view or understanding of the lateral thinking creative process is wider, more diverse, and far more practical than most. It is one thing to be an expert in lateral thinking skills and techniques . . . it is another to have the disciplines so firmly entrenched into your daily routine that you could describe your usage as “instinct”.

Simplicity is the key to creating power from this discipline. I have created 14 very simple, yet extremely powerful lateral thinking and creative thought and management lessons as the most all-encompassing personal development training anywhere. I will build neural pathways of excellent creative habits of thought within you. To start this well thought out provocative journey, please click here. It totally free.

Michael Muxworthy,  Author of the Caeser Rising series of novels
Lateral Thinking Investigations . . . of the Third Kind

The final witness to Roswell
“We should never have trusted the aliens” – Roswell’s Final Witness

What is lateral thinking?

Lateral thinking is freedom from your past experiences

Lateral thinking is available here free on this website

Michael John Muxworthy

Disruptive Author