Vertical Thinking vs. Lateral Thinking

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  • 0:04 Definitions
  • 0:35 Differences
  • 2:27 Examples
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

What is vertical thinking? What is lateral thinking? What's the difference between them? This lesson is going to define these two topics and differentiate between the two of them as well.


Jack is driving on a road on a Saturday night in a college town's pub district. He sees a car swerving back and forth across the road. He thinks that it's most likely a drunk person. But is it? That may depend on whether he uses vertical or lateral thinking. Let's go over some of the differences between the two in this lesson.

Vertical thinking is a sequence of direct and logical steps that are used to come to a conclusion. Lateral thinking, on the other hand, is using an indirect and creative approach to come to a conclusion.


Vertical thinking is a rigid way of thinking. It's about sticking to the approach you have taken from the beginning and excluding any other. Lateral thinking is more flexible. It's all about thinking about a problem from different angles, even if they're a bit controversial, and generating new approaches to the same old thing.

Vertical thinking follows the tried and tested ways, while lateral thinking is more likely to follow the least common path.

Vertical thinking is sequential, while lateral thinking involves steps that aren't sequential but may still reach the same end. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 is vertical thinking, as the equation moves in a specific sequence. Painting a picture, on the other hand, can be arrived at from numerous points, where the gaps between the points can be filled in infinite amounts of ways.

With lateral thinking, you don't have to be correct at every step of the way. With vertical thinking, you must be. You can see how either of these might be useful. Einstein made many mistakes before coming up with his theory of general relativity and before he got it right. It was made possible due to a heavy dose of lateral thinking.

However, when putting a complex piece of machinery together using a manual, you need to do every step exactly and sequentially before moving on so that everything works out properly in the end.

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