What Is Lateral Thinking? Definition and Examples

Max 5min read
Lateral Thinking

Step into the world where imagination knows no bounds, where thinking outside the box takes center stage. Welcome to the kingdom of lateral thinking! It’s a place where creativity and logic intertwine and where the extraordinary thrives. Here, we celebrate unconventional ideas and embrace innovation. Open your mind to new possibilities, explore uncharted territories of thought, and let your imagination soar.

We will cover what lateral thinking means, various techniques and strategies, Benefits, and tips to develop your lateral thinking skills. 

What Is Lateral Thinking?

Lateral thinking definition:

Lateral thinking promotes the exploration of alternative possibilities, connections, and solutions. It involves thinking beyond the obvious. In contrast, it considers multiple viewpoints to arrive at unexpected and innovative solutions.

Lateral thinking was coined by Maltese physician and author Edward de Bono in his book “The Use of Lateral Thinking,” published in 1967. It refers to a problem-solving approach that involves looking at a situation or challenge from varied perspectives or unconventional angles. The goal of lateral thinking is to break free from traditional linear thinking patterns. The focus is mainly on generating creative and innovative ideas.

Edward de Bono developed lateral thinking as a deliberate technique to enhance creativity and problem-solving abilities. He believed that traditional thinking methods often restrict the range of solutions. They do that by imposing rigid constraints or patterns. Lateral thinking aims to overcome these limitations. It fosters new ideas through random word associations, provocation, and challenging assumptions.

Benefits of Lateral Thinking

Here are some benefits of lateral thinking:

Creativity and Innovation

Lateral thinking enhances creative thinking skills. This happens mainly by encouraging individuals to explore alternative perspectives and unconventional ideas. It promotes innovative solutions and enables individuals to think outside the box.


Lateral thinking helps overcome mental blocks and encourages individuals to approach problems differently. It allows for considering multiple viewpoints and exploring various solutions. All of that leads to more effective problem-solving outcomes.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Lateral thinking cultivates mental flexibility. This enables individuals to adapt to changing situations and find new approaches when faced with challenges. It encourages open-mindedness and the willingness to explore different possibilities. All these skills are precious in today’s rapidly evolving world.

Improved Decision Making

By considering a wider range of options and perspectives, lateral thinking enables individuals to make more informed and well-rounded decisions. It helps to uncover hidden opportunities and risks. All of which you may have overlooked through traditional thinking approaches.

Techniques and Strategies for Lateral Thinking

Here are some techniques and strategies commonly used in lateral thinking:

Random Stimulation

This technique introduces random and unrelated elements to stimulate creative thinking. It can include activities such as brainstorming unrelated ideas or drawing connections between seemingly unrelated concepts.

Provocative Questions

Asking unconventional and thought-provoking questions is of utmost importance. It can challenge existing assumptions and encourage innovative thinking. These questions push individuals to explore different angles and generate new ideas.

Reverse Thinking

It involves flipping a problem or situation upside down. After that, consider it from a reverse perspective. By reversing assumptions or perspectives, new insights and possibilities can emerge.

Analogy and Metaphor

Using analogies and metaphors can help create connections between unrelated concepts. This leads to fresh insights and innovative solutions. Relating a problem to something entirely different can reveal hidden patterns or possibilities.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a visual technique to bring together thoughts and ideas. It involves creating a diagram that links various ideas and concepts together. Mind maps encourage non-linear thinking. It also helps explore different associations and connections.

Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats technique, developed by Edward de Bono, assigns different “hats” to participants. Each hat represents a different thinking style or perspective. The hats include white (objective information), red (emotions and intuition), black (caution and critical thinking), yellow (optimism and benefits), green (creative and alternative thinking), and blue (overview and process control). 

By adopting different hats, individuals can explore multiple perspectives and generate diverse ideas.

Real-Life Examples of Lateral Thinking

A real-life example of lateral thinking is the creation of the Post-it note. It is a popular and widely used office supply. The story goes that Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M, was working on developing a super-strong adhesive. He accidentally ended up creating a weak, reusable adhesive. Despite all that, he couldn’t find a practical application for his invention.

Years later, another 3M employee named Art Fry was frustrated with using bookmarks that kept falling out of his choir hymnal. Remembering Silver’s adhesive, Fry saw an opportunity. He realized that the weak adhesive could be used. They could use it to create sticky notes that could be attached and removed from surfaces. All the while without leaving any residue.

Fry and Silver collaborated, combining their ideas to create the iconic Post-it note. The product initially faced skepticism within 3M. The reason was that it didn’t fit into the company’s traditional product lines. 

However, Fry and Silver persisted, demonstrating the usefulness and versatility of the product. Eventually, Post-it notes were introduced to the market. They became a global success. This resulted in revolutionizing office organization and note-taking.

This example demonstrates lateral thinking because it involves approaching a problem from a different angle. It also shows us that making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas is necessary. Rather than focusing solely on developing a strong adhesive, the inventors saw the potential in a weaker adhesive. They found an innovative application for it. All this led to the creation of a highly successful product.

Tips for Developing Lateral Thinking Skills

  • Pay attention to your environment. Be mindful of the details. Engage your senses and observe things from different perspectives.
  • Seek new experiences, and explore different environments. We recommend you expose yourself to diverse stimuli.
  • Challenge the status quo and actively seek alternative solutions to problems.
  • Break free from your routine and try new approaches.
  • Cultivate curiosity by asking unconventional and unexpected questions. This can lead to new insights and spark innovative ideas.
  • Approach situations with a sense of wonder and a willingness to explore new possibilities.
  • Engage in regular brainstorming sessions, either individually or in groups.
  • Surround yourself with people coming from different backgrounds and with diverse expertise.
  • Encourage experimentation and risk-taking.
  • Believe in your ability to develop and improve your lateral thinking skills.


What are the 4 principles of lateral thinking?

The four principles of lateral thinking are:

  1. Recognition of dominant ideas
  2. Suspending judgment
  3. Searching for alternatives
  4. Creating new patterns
How do you know if you are a lateral thinker?

If you often come up with unconventional solutions, make unexpected connections. You may also be questioning assumptions. All of these say that you may possess the traits of a lateral thinker. Embracing creativity and thinking outside the box are key indicators.

What promotes lateral thinking?

Engaging in creative exercises, exposing oneself to diverse perspectives, and asking provocative questions are some factors that promote lateral thinking. Embracing ambiguity, using random stimuli, and fostering a playful and open-minded mindset also contribute to developing lateral thinking skills.

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