Lateral Thinking and Thinking out of the Box

Laterales Denken ist seine Stärke - Er weiß wie man den inneren Zensor beherrscht
Laterales Denken ist seine Stärke - Er weiß wie man den inneren Zensor beherrscht

Benno van Aerssen is your trainer and coach for lateral thinking.

In the management process of successful companies, lateral thinking is used one of many established creative techniques when it comes to finding unconventional and innovative solutions to business problems and challenges.

Lateral thinking is thinking outside the box. Edward de Bono described it in his book "Serious Creativity developing new ideas through the power of lateral thinking."

After the realization that creativity is not innate, but can be achieved by anyone who is open-minded enough, it is possible to start integrating new techniques into ones daily working routine. These techniques will help you to learn and master your creativity, an advantage in many aspects, not only in terms of increasing competitiveness.

The development of new ideas through the power of "lateral thinking" especially appeals to executives intending to take their business further by developing entirely new concepts.

Edward de Bono is regarded as the inventor of the concept of lateral thinking, the basis of his method being the "sideways" approach, a variation from traditional patterns of thinking.

De Bono vividly depicts his idea of ​​lateral thinking: "As long as you dig an existing hole deeper, you can not dig a second hole in a different place."

Lateral thinking (as opposed to vertical, logical thinking) is, according to de Bono (1967), "to think outside the box" often illogically and unconventionally.

"This kind of thinking is what I call lateral thinking: the ability to break out of the prison of the old ideas and develop new ones."

The majority of intelligent people underestimate their own thinking and creative abilities. Too many of us think along the same lines, instead of searching for the optimal solution.


Four principals to guide lateral thinking:

  1. Recognize dominant ideas and ways of thinking
  2. Search for other ways to look at things
  3. Relax the strict control applied to the rational-logical (vertical) thinking
  4. Consciously make use of chance
Warum ein Apfel Scharniere haben kann - Benno van Aerssen weiß es
Warum ein Apfel Scharniere haben kann - Benno van Aerssen weiß es

When thinking logically, every step in the thought process must be correct, however in lateral thinking this is not the case.

According to Edward de Bono, when it comes to lateral thinking it is crucial to delay decisions. This is because the information can continually react and progress, thus leaving free space for new ideas to arise.

For this reason, his method uses information in a provocative and intuitive manner, while also providing a structured model of intuitive and generally accepted concepts to put into question. De Bono believes the reconstruction of thought patterns is necessary in order to use the existing information more effectively.  

We tend to break down unfamiliar situations with familiar elements. "It is disturbing to imagine how many situations are poorly understood due to the fact that all the attempts made to explain it, are exhausted by using familiar patterns."

While vertical (logical) thinking presents a succession of logical steps, lateral thinking increases its effectiveness by showing alternative entry points.

Both styles of thinking do not however, entirely cancel each other out. De Bono describes the two styles as follows: "... The vertical thinking drives forward the ideas that have been previously generated by the lateral thinking.  You don't dig a second hole while the existing one deepens. The lateral thinking is applied, to search elsewhere to dig a hole."

Lateral thinking creates a new rearrangement of information. You are not looking for the right answer, rather for a different formation or arrangement of the information.


Here are several techniques recommended by de Bono for overcoming dominant perspectives:

a) turn the spotlight around

b) think visually

c) break down a problem into smaller and smaller pieces, and then try to form something new

d) Deliberately reverse relations

e) create an analogy, the transmission ratios of a situation to another, easier-to-handle situation

f) shift the focus from the obvious onto the less significant aspects


Vertical Thinking and Lateral Thinking:

Vertical Thinking

  • Consists only in motion, when there is a direction available, in which it can move into
  • requires thinking analytically
  • Each step must be correct
  • Requires thinking logically
  • Seemingly insignificant aspects are excluded
  • Categories, classifications, and identification marks are set out
  • Suggests a most likely and most successful way


Lateral thinking

  • Generative
  • Begins to move, to find its own direction of thought
  • provocative
  • Not every step must be properly justified
  • Leaps and bounds
  • Everything is welcomed, even aspects of chance
  • No stipulations
  • Explores improbable ways