Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Mar 29, 2009 by


Secretary can actively operating a filing system, librarian can actively cataloguing books, or computer actively sorting out information. Our mind, however, does not actively sort out the information we receive. Our mind is passive. It only provides environment how information can sort themselves.

Memory is anything that happens and does not completely unhappen. It leaves some trace behind that eventually will decide how the information will self-organize themselves.

You can think of them as earth’s landscape. In the rainy days, raindrops form rivulets and streams on the ground. The streams leave the trace that decides how the following raindrops will flow. It eventually makes the stream deeper and turns into river, lake, and sea.

This pattern, the self-organizing pattern, however, may cause problem if it’s not correctly formed. Edward de Bono presents the following two diagrams to depict the problem.


Imagine that the blocks are the incoming information to our mind. As the information coming in, a pattern is formed, and it influenced how the subsequent information is organized to maintain the same pattern. This can cause problem if the pattern is not created properly as in the first diagram shows above.

A different way of arranging the diagram can be seen below, how the information can be formed properly including the final one. However this method is less likely to be tried because a square is much more obvious than a parallelogram.


It’s the problem with self-maximizing pattern. The most obvious solution may not be the optimal one. One may not be able to continue further without restructuring the pattern, without breaking up the old pattern that has been formed. That leads to the need of insight restructuring to achieve the maximal level.

Lateral Thinking VS Vertical Thinking

Lateral thinking deals with insight restructuring. It’s coined by Edward de Bono in the books titled Lateral Thinking. Many people believe that the only form of effective thinking is what Edward de Bono called as vertical thinking, in which people are going through the logical steps in thinking. These are some of the differences, and how lateral thinking can be beneficial…

Vertical thinking is selective, lateral thinking is generative. While rightness is what matters in vertical thinking, richness is what matters with lateral thinking. Vertical thinking resists irrelevant thinking while lateral thinking welcomes them.

Lateral thinking is provocative in nature. It can make jumps rather than sequential steps. It can make mistakes rather than right move in every step.

That is the exploration that eventually helps in the insight restructuring. Some techniques involves random entries which one must use to think of a solution, while some other provokes wishful thinking, reversal, and alternatives, questioning what most people believe. It is how one can learn from almost anything and take it into an insight that helps in problem solving.

The book comes with many more ideas on how to do lateral thinking. Meanwhile you can also find some idea generating tool in Wikipedia.

Lateral Thinking CS Vertical Thinking

Does that mean vertical thinking is not useful?

People thought that lateral thinking questions the validity of vertical thinking. It’s not so, the two are complementary rather than antagonistic.

Lateral thinking is useful for generating ideas and approaches, and vertical thinking is useful for developing them. Lateral thinking enhances the effectiveness of vertical thinking by offering it more to select from, while vertical thinking multiplies the effectiveness of lateral thinking by making good use of the ideas generated.

I hope this article gives you a brief introduction on the lateral thinking, an awareness of it and the need of it. You may need to get the book if you want to learn more about the techniques available. I will see if I can bring about one or two techniques in this blog as I am also preparing to speak about it for my next Toastmaster project.


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  1. All thinking is useful, and Bono’s approach with his various techniques, including wearing hats, have proved to be extremely useful in breaking out of stalemates and solving problems.  I am a great fan of Bono’s and read everything from him and about him.

  2. I use lateral way of thinking during the time when I want to start some new project or choose a project to be the first from the list,It generates more ideas and I begin connections between them and see the project half-done.It is inspiring.While finishing the project I need more concentration and new ideas are distractful.This step needs vertical thinking.Every season has its fruit.Nothing can be considered ideal.Everything has its +s and -s.One must be experienced to use it.

  3. Nicole, it’s the second book I read from Bono. First one is how to be interesting, and I guess I really need to have lots of practice in that. This book also share some techniques, I especially like the po statement.

    Game-girl, I’m still wondering what’s your name =). Thanks for sharing your comments here. I agreed very much with your points. I think they need to work hand-in-hand, together they can achieve something that individually they won’t be able to.

    Thanks ladies! and Keep on smilin’

  4. I didn’t understand his parallelogram graphics at all, but I got what he was saying otherwise.  I think I am much more of a vertical thinker.  When I am brainstorming ideas, I immediately analyze the possible negatives of the idea.  It is difficult to change the way you think though.  Your brain gets programmed to do things a certain way.  I guess in Edward’s book he discusses techniques of how to better use lateral thinking.


  5. Hi Jeremy,
    I guess the picture is not clear. Let me explain a bit,
    they depicts the information as blocks with different shape, and the shape on the left (before the ‘+’ character) depicts how we organize them.
    As additional information comes (the blocks after the ‘+’ character), we structure them following our existing patterns.

    The first picture shows what happen when we structure them into a square shape. It’s a more obvious way to structure the information, but when the last block of information (parallelogram shape) comes, it has difficulty to put it together.

    The second picture shows us that restructuring information might be necessary. And this time, we structure them into a big parallelogram shape.

    Hope the description helps,

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