Lateral Thinking Techniques

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson is going to cover a scenario where using lateral thinking would be important. Along the way, you'll learn several lateral thinking techniques that can help you solve complex problems.

Lateral Thinking

Why don't we pretend you're a detective? You are investigating a home that has been burglarized. The back door to the home is open. If you're a heavy vertical thinker, you'll think in very linear fashion, connecting the dots from A to B in direct ways. The door is open, thus this must've been the way by which the burglar got in, right? Maybe, maybe not.

A lateral thinker will think in indirect and creative ways to come up with an answer or solution. So, in this case, using lateral thinking, you might theorize that the burglar could've come in through a window, the locked front door, or even the chimney!

Very quickly, we've been able to expand the possibilities from one scenario to four. Why don't we keep trying to solve this burglary as we explore some lateral thinking techniques at the same time?

Points of View

In the introduction, we already engaged in one broad lateral thinking technique, the generation of alternatives. We came up with some alternative ways by which the burglar could've accessed the home. You might think that the chimney example is ridiculous but lateral thinking and, specifically, the generation of alternatives is not about coming up with correct or the best alternatives. Rather, it is about formulating different alternatives and nothing more.

One great way to come up with alternative explanations for something is to think from another person's point of view. The answers to the following questions offer alternative explanations for the open door.

  • How would the owner enter the home?
  • How would the burglar enter the house if somebody was home? How would the burglar enter if a light was on somewhere outside?
  • How would the burglar enter if they were in a rush vs. if they had all the time in the world?

Even if you've decided that the burglar did indeed come in through the open door, you still need to generate alternatives by asking as many questions as possible from different points of view.

From the point of view of the owner: did he leave the door unlocked and/or ajar?

From the point of view of the burglar: did he simply open it or did he pick the lock to open it?

From your point of view: is there evidence of forced entry? After all, a door could be opened by force as well.

Sacred Assumptions

In the burglary case, without your lateral thinking cap on, you might assume that the back door was indeed the way the burglar came in. The door was the entry point for a random burglar choosing a random home to steal random things. That might be your sacred assumption, so to speak, but that kind of vertical thinking can really hold you back in solving this crime creatively!

When you challenge your sacred assumptions, you can come up with creative answers to what looks like a straightforward, vertical, cut and dry case.

So, how can this be done? That's easy: just ask 'Why?' Here's an example line of thinking you might use:

Why is the back door open?

  • Because this was the entry point for the burglar.

Why was this the entry point for the burglar?

  • Because it was the easiest way to get into the home.

Why was this the easiest way to get into the home?

  • Alternative A: Because the homeowner accidentally forgot to close the door.
  • Alternative B: Because the homeowner purposefully left the door open.

Why would the homeowner purposefully leave the door open?

  • Alternative A. Because he didn't want to be awoken by his son, who had forgotten his house keys, coming home late from work.
  • Alternative B. Because he wanted valuables stolen as part of insurance fraud.

Do you see how simply asking 'Why?' and challenging assumptions can create a massive web of new possibilities?

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