Creative Thinking or Lateral Thinking?

Mark McGuinness over at Lateral Action has a great post titled “Is Lateral Thinking Necessary for Creativity?“…this post is a well thought out argument against the idea that lateral thinking is required for creativity. I won’t go into the details of Mark’s post but I wanted to highlight this passage:

He [Robert Weisberg] argues that the creative process takes place via a process of logical thinking, trial and error, feedback and reflection – all of which involves ‘ordinary thought processes’ rather than lateral thinking

Emphasis mine.

The concept of ‘lateral thinking’ was defined by Edward De Bono in 1967 and is rather difficult to get a formal definition for.  If you jump over to google and search for ‘lateral thinking‘, you’ll see many many definitions…all a bit different. Regardless of the formal definition, the idea of lateral thinking is that a person must change their perspective and ‘think differently’ to be creative.

lateral thinkingBack in January 2007, I wrote a post titled ‘The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking” where I highlight the issues with people falling into the linear thinking trap.  In this post, I talk about ‘lateral thinking’ when it comes to hiring people and thinking creatively. When I look back on that post, my real meaning of ‘lateral thinking’ was really ‘think differently’. In other words, try to think differently than you normally would.  This is the basic concept behind lateral thinking.

Now…back to my original question…Does creative thinking require lateral thinking?

Ready for my answer? I don’t think it really matters. Lateral, linear, creative or vertical…should I care?  The academic in me does care (which is why I liked Mark’s post)…but the realist knows that these are just words to many people.   Most people and organizations just want to get their problems solved and figure out a way to be innovative.

How can you do this without studying some of these academic theories?  All you have to do is think differently.  Approach the problem from different directions.  If this is called lateral thinking…great.  If its called creative thinking….awesome.

Looking back a few paragraphs, you’ll see Weisberg’s ideas that the creative process occurs via logical thinking along with some trial and error and reflection….all great ideas and probably more correct and more provable than De Bono’s.  That said, at the end of the day, you’ve got to do the basics.

Throw the words to the side and do what it takes to solve your problems.  If De Bono’s lateral thinking methods work for you, use them.  If Weisberg’s ideas on creativity work for you, more power to ya.

The thing to be careful of is allowing yourself to fall into the trap of thinking like you did yesterday. Problems today are different than problems yesterday.  Let yourself out of the box (or get back into the box if you’ve been out a while) and find the solution that fits your problem today.  That solution will be different tomorrow.

16 responses to “Creative Thinking or Lateral Thinking?”

  1. New blog post: Creative Thinking or Lateral Thinking?

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  7. Rotkapchen Avatar

    Blew right over the most significant: Design Thinking — leveraging deductive, inductive, abductive.

    I recently identified a related distinction, paring interpretation (connecting the dots) with interpolation (crossing the chasms — finding the unlikely associations).

    Rotkapchen’s last blog post..How Social Networking Helps Service Orientation

  8. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Paula – Thanks for stopping by.

    Design Thinking is a great concept…thanks for sharing.

  9. Janette Toral Avatar

    Hi Eric. Great post here. I agree with you that creative persons should tap and explore as many thinking styles and not limit themselves to one method, such as lateral thinking. In the case of Edward De Bono, based on what I’ve tried so far, he suggested a lot of ways to go about this where lateral thinking is just one of them.

    Janette Toral’s last blog post..Change Maker – 7 Tools for Transformation

  10. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hi Janette – Thanks for stopping by.

    I haven’t read any of De Bono’s stuff but I plan to. I’m extremely interested in this subject but also try to keep a realistic view on things as well.

    Do you recommend any other books or authors on the subject?

  11. Rotkapchen Avatar

    As a general point of reference, I keep all of my online references for Design Thinking here:

    You’ll also see some Visual Thinking references sprinkled in. This is a key mechanism for creating critical artifacts of agreements in the process, e.g. a ‘map’ of what ‘we’ all currently agree to — which is in constant flux. It serves as an ‘explicit’ placeholder so all can consider and comment.

    Rotkapchen’s last blog post..What will happen when your local TV Station & Newspaper are Gone?

  12. Val Sanford Avatar

    Thanks. Great article. As a product manager, I am always struggling against my own, and the teams, thanking about our products and markets. Getting out of our own way is hard, but necessary.

    Val Sanford’s last blog post..Twittermaven: Twitter helps Alaska Airlines to go North of Expected

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