Vertical Thinking: Definition, Method & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the concept of vertical thinking. You'll learn its definition, some of the core methods behind it, as well as numerous examples of it in practice.

Vertical Thinking

If you were given a paper clip and told by someone to use it for something, what would you do with it? Some people would use it to hold two pieces of paper together. Others might create some neat looking figures out of it. Still others would be evil and unwind it only to jab someone with it.


The people who use it to hold two pieces of paper together are engaged in vertical thinking. Let's find out exactly what this is and some methods and examples behind it.

The Definition

Vertical thinking refers to a way of analyzing, processing, and using information in a logical, patterned, or direct way. In other words, there isn't much room for creativity here. There's commonly a pre-structured way of processing some sort of information and putting that information to use.

Vertical thinking also involves the analysis of past information to figure out how a current situation may have come about. In other words, past actions and events are sometimes justified or rationalized in light of current information during vertical thinking. Many consider lateral thinking — an indirect, creative approach to problem-solving — to be vertical thinking's opposite.

Methods & Examples

One method of vertical thinking is the use of sequences — that is to say, following a series of events from A to B. Moreover, you must be correct every step of the way before you can move on to the next step. An example of this could be something like putting together a table from IKEA. You have to do it step by step, and you can't move on to the next step in the sequence before you've finished the prior step. That doesn't mean the table will look right in the end, though. (It is from IKEA after all.) But you did follow a sequence of steps nonetheless.

Another method to vertical thinking is exclusion — in other words, excluding anything that hasn't been pre-patterned or structured into a model already. For instance, a stock trader may look for patterns in a series of price movements. If they don't match his model, they are excluded from further processing even if they give out useful information.

Vertical thinking relies on continuity in its methodology. This means that any new information becomes part of a preexisting model instead of being used to restructure that model or build an entirely new one. Think of someone using the same Lego pieces and simply putting each new one exactly on top of the previous one in a linear fashion as opposed to sticking the Lego piece on differently or perhaps taking apart all the Lego pieces and putting them together in a new way.

Another important part of vertical thinking is the notion of absoluteness — meaning, the way of thinking or doing in question is absolute, unique, and there is no better way of doing it. This could be rephrased as rigidity in thought or action. Someone who believes using rotary phones is the bee's knees in business today might be guilty of vertical thinking.

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