Lateral thinking is a term created by creativity guru Edward De Bono in 1967.
The term is in the concise Oxford dictionary where it is defined as: “seeking to solve problems by unorthodox or apparently illogical methods”.
In business this is sometimes referred to as out of the box thinking.
In his book “Serious Creativity” De Bono explains that he felt that lateral was a good word to describe a type of thinking that wasn’t linear, sequential or logical.
(Photo Flickr Credit Envios)
It is about changing concepts and perceptions so that rather than trying to do the same think harder or better you change your thought path to one of achieving the same goal by doing something different.
"With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. It is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then 'process'." - Edward De Bono
It is also about using your imagination so as to try and look at something from a new perspective.
Also in his book De Bono describes an interesting example... Granny is happily knitting a sweater but the toddler is disturbing her by playing with the ball of wool. One parent suggests putting the toddler in her playpen to prevent her from annoying granny, whereas the other parent suggests putting granny in the playpen. This lateral (sideways) move achieves the same goal.
So overall it is about creative problem solving, trying different perceptions, different concepts and different points of entry in order to move us out of a typical line of thought and move us towards a new creative solution.
Either combined with thinking laterally or as an alternative you may want to solve your problem or problems in a more logical, orderly manner. If this is the case then please refer to the problem solving steps page.