loren Eric Swanson: Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

I finished Lateral Thinking while I was in Las Vegas. It is very helpful in describing the type of process Leadership Network employs in facilitating leadership communities—where the goal is not just doing better / more of what we have done in the past but rather doing more with less and exponential and not mere incremental growth. The following are a few useful quotes from the book.

Culture is concerned with establishing ideas. Education is concerned with communicating those established ideas. Both are concerned with improving ideas by bringing them up to date. The only available method for changing ideas is conflict…. p.9

Lateral thinking is concerned with the generation of new ideas. There is a curious notion that new ideas have to do with technical invention. This is a very minor aspect of the matter. New ideas are the stuff of change and progress in every field from science to art, from politics to personal happiness. P.11

Lateral thinking is quite distinct from vertical thinking which is the traditional type of thinking. In vertical thinking one moves forward by sequential steps each of which must be justified. The distinction between the two sorts of thinking is sharp. For instance in lateral thinking one uses information not for its own sake but for its effect. In lateral thinking one may have to be wrong at some stage in order to achieve a correct solution; in vertical thinking (logic or mathematics) this would be impossible. In lateral thinking one may deliberately seek out irrelevant information; in vertical thinking one selects out only what is relevant. Lateral thinking is not a substitute for vertical thinking. Both are required. They are complementary. Lateral thinking is generative. Vertical thinking is selective. P.12

With vertical thinking one may reach a conclusion by a valid series of steps. Because of the soundness of the steps one is arrogantly certain of the correctness of the conclusion. But no matter how correct the path may be the starting point was a matter of perceptual choice which fashioned the basic concepts used…. Lateral thinking would …temper the arrogance of any rigid conclusion no matter how soundly it appeared to have been worked out. P.12

Lateral thinking enhances the effectiveness of vertical thinking. Vertical thinking develops the ideas generated by lateral thinking. You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper. Vertical thinking is used to dig the same hole deeper. Lateral thinking is used to dig a hole in a different place. P.12

The difference between lateral and vertical thinking.
Rightness is what matters in vertical thinking. Richness is what matters in lateral thinking. Vertical thinking selects a pathway by excluding other pathways. Lateral thinking does not select but seeks to open op other pathways. With vertical thinking one selects the most promising approach to a problem, the best way of looking at a situation. With lateral thinking one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. With vertical thinking one may look for different approaches until one finds a promising one. With lateral thinking one goes on generating as many approaches as one can even after one has found a promising one. With vertical thinking one is trying to select the best approach but with lateral thinking one is generating different approaches for the sake of generating them. P.39
Vertical thinking moves only if there is a direction in which to move, lateral thinking moves in order to generate a direction.

With vertical thinking one designs an experiment to show some effect. With lateral thinking one designs an experiment in order to provide an opportunity to change one’s ideas. With vertical thinking one must always be moving usefully in some direction. With lateral thinking one may play around without any purpose or direction.. One may play around with experiments, with models, with notation, with ideas. P.40

Vertical thinking is analytical, lateral thinking is provocative. One may consider three different attitudes to the remark of a student who had come to the conclusion: ‘Ulysses was a hypocrite.’
1. You are wrong
2. How very interesting, tell me how you reached that conclusion.
3. Very well. What happens next? How are you going to go forward from this idea?
In order to be able to use the provocative qualities of lateral thinking one must also be able to follow up with the selective qualities of vertical thinking. P.40

Vertical thinking is sequential, lateral thinking can make jumps. With vertical thinking one moves forward one step at a time…With lateral thinking the steps do not have to be sequential. One may jump ahead to a new point and then fill in the gap afterwards. P.41

With vertical thinking one has to be correct at every step, with lateral thinking one does not have to be. The very essence of vertical thinking is that one must be right at each step. This is absolutely fundamental to the nature of vertical thinking. Logical thinking and mathematics would not function at all without this necessity. In lateral thinking however one does not have to be right at each step provided the conclusion is right. It is like building a bridge. The parts do not have to be self-supporting at every stage but when the last part is fitted into place the bridge suddenly becomes self-supporting. P.42

Lateral thinking breaks down old patterns in order to liberate information. Lateral thinking stimulates new patter formation by juxtaposing unlikely information. P.55

Problem solving
A problem is simply the difference between what one has and what one wants….There are three types of problems:
The first typ of problem requires for its solution more information or better techniques for handling information
The second type of problem requires no new information but a rearrangement of information already available: an insight restructuring.
The third typ of problem is the problem of no problem. One is blocked by the adequacy of the present arrangement from moving to a much better one. P. 58

The prupose of thinking is not to be right but to be effective. Being effective does eventually involve being right but there is a very important difference between the two. Being right means being right all the time. Being effective means being right only at the end. P. 107

With lateral thinking one is allowed to be wrong on the way even though one must be right in the end…One may have to move to an untenable position in order to be able to find a tenable position. P.107

As a process lateral thinking is concerned with change not with proof. P. 107

Judgment is suspended during the generative stage of thinking in order to be applied during the selective stage. P.108

In lateral thinking one is not looking for the right answer but for a different arrangement of information which will provoke a different way of looking at the situation.


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