Thinking Laterally: Why Linear Thinking is Outdated

By July 30, 2018Uncategorized

As a bookworm, I digest books at a rate of knots – I love to absorb information and ideas. Fiction, non-fiction, it does not matter to me. I lose hours this way, “just finishing this chapter…” then suddenly, it’s 3am and I have to be up in a few hours! And don’t get me started on e-books, having a library in my pocket is a dream come true!

Occasionally, I come across a book that speaks to me, not only do I devour the content, I go back over time and time again. You may not feel the same, reading may feel laborious, a chore and you would rather have your wisdom teeth pulled. That’s okay, the internet has provided numerous ways for us to consume information.

Recently I picked up a book (no surprise there), not only did I get lost in this book, in my mind I was shouting “YES! This is EXACTLY how I think!” The book? Spoiler Alert! Think! By Edward De Bono.

Before I begin to wax lyrical, sing De Bono’s praises and tell you how much this resonated with me, we’re going to have a quick history lesson.

Many years ago (I’m talking Ancient Greek), debate, questions and inquisitive nature provided progress – not only to society, but in science, maths, astrology and politics. Progress requires us to challenge the status quo. At some point, we stopped asking questions and consequently, progress slowed to a snail’s pace. If you doubt this, consider the lack of progress made in medicine over the years, there is a large period in our history we refer to as the Dark Ages – where there was little change. Most of our medical knowledge has been gained over the last 200 years, a period known as the Enlightenment. Consequently, we have reaped the benefits with better healthcare, dramatically lower mortality rates and a remarkable increase in life expectancy.

Back to De Bono.

In a nutshell, the child who continues to ask ‘WHY??’ is the one who will make changes. You see, linear thinking is what has halted progress, regurgitating ‘facts’ as gospel. Our school systems put emphasis on ‘fact’ rather than promoting inquisitive or challenging standard thought. Being ‘creative’ is dismissed as a second rate process. I’m not referring to artistic creativity here, rather creative thinking that challenges the linear processes, promotes new ideas and provides us the opportunity to progress. De Bono’s creative thinking has been tested world-wide across many different societies and structures. In every case, the results have been astounding.

Take the example of being at school. How bored were you? You weren’t alone, many of us were. When I look back, I felt unchallenged, as though I was regurgitating information like some sort of Shakespearean robot. I have never used my exemplary essay regarding Lady Macbeth, although I will concede that I learnt how to formulate a rational and discussion. I have never used pi, cos, sin or trigonometry in my adult life – actually, after my GCSE’s I couldn’t even tell you what they are for! These factual processes promote linear thought – 1 + 1 +1 =3. Where De Bono’s creative thinking was taught in schools, children who were thought of as underperforming or disengaged suddenly blossomed –  they needed to be challenged, to use their mind, not regurgitate the square root of 759 (incidentally, it’s 27.5499546279 in case you were wondering.), or reciting learned linguistic phrases in German, Spanish or French.

So what is Lateral thinking and where does it fit in? It is the same concept as creative thinking, going against the ‘normal’ process. Using unique perspectives and processes to challenge what is considered normal. There are many ways you can do this, like drawing an extra line or two in a naughts and crosses game to win! It’s not cheating, it is thinking outside the box, going against the grain, taking a new angle. The terminology to describe this thought process is interchangeable, creative thinking IS lateral thinking. However, this becomes blurred when we use ‘creative’ in place of ‘artistic’. Artistry is a form of creativity, but creativity is not just the remit of Picasso, Einstein was creative, he used lateral thinking. Whatever you call it, Lateral or Creative thinking, it works and provides significant progress when applied to any topic.

Creative thinking is not always logical. We often pride ourselves in having a logical thought process, indeed, it is often pitched as being superior. But what if we were wrong? What if creative, lateral thinking produced better ideas than logic? What if we need both sets of thinking skills to produce our best work? De Bono gives many examples of the application of lateral thinking.  One that stuck out for me was children being asked to create a dog exercising device. A lot of the results were a treadmill with a bone in front of it. But one child had a dog pulling a trailer with a cattle prod attached. If the dog stopped, it would get a shock. As cruel as it may sound, there is an important point in this. It’s how the solution was approached. While many were concerned with keeping the dog going, the cattle prod is concerned with the dog not stopping. Different perspectives are important.

I have been in many meetings where people argue their point, determined to ‘prove’ they are right or their idea is the best. I can tell you, not only are these meetings unbelievably boring, ultimately, they fail to reach a solution. We’ve all had meetings where the first thought at the end is ‘what a waste of time that was’, we leave frustrated, with no clear way forward. Perhaps if we placed a little time on generating ideas using lateral thinking techniques, we may find these meetings more productive.

Next time you are faced with a problem or need to come up with an idea or plan, rather than logical analysis, why not try lateral thinking, take it out of the box and get a different perspective. If you’re not sure how, then get a copy of Think! and use the exercises. Take a different road and try something different. You never know what you are capable of until you try.