Lateral Thinking

by Hamid Ali

Title of the Book: Lateral Thinking

Author: Edward Debono

Publisher: Penguin Group

ISBN: 978-0-14-193831-8

First published by Ward Lock Education 1970 Published in Pelican Books 1977 Reprinted in Penguin Books 1990 35

Edward de Bono has had faculty appointments at the universities of Oxford, London, Cambridge, and Harvard. He is widely regarded as the leading authority in the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. He originated the concept of lateral thinking and developed formal techniques for deliberate creative thinking. He has written sixty-two books, which have been translated into thirty-seven languages, has made two television series and there are over 4,000,000 references to his work on the Internet.

Lateral Thinking – Book Review

The emphasis in education according to Edward Debono has always been on logical sequential thinking which is by tradition the only proper use of information. Creativity is vaguely encouraged as some mysterious talent. This book is about lateral thinking. According to Bono (1990), lateral thinking is not a substitute for traditional logical thinking but a necessary complement. Logical thinking is quite incomplete without lateral thinking. Lateral thinking makes quite a different use of information from logical (vertical) thinking. For instance, the need to be right at every step is absolutely essential to logical thinking but quite unnecessary in lateral thinking. It may sometimes be necessary to be wrong to dislocate a pattern sufficiently for it to reform in a new way. With logical thinking one makes immediate judgments, with lateral thinking one may delay judgments in order to allow information to interact and generate new ideas.

The twin aspects of lateral thinking are first, the provocative use of information, and second, the challenge to accepted concepts. Underlying both these aspects is the main purpose of lateral thinking which provides a means to restructure patterns. This restructuring of patterns is necessary to make better use of information that is already available. It is an insight restructuring. The mind is a pattern-making system. The mind creates patterns out of the environment and then recognizes and uses such patterns. This is the basis of its effectiveness. Because the sequence of arrival of information determines how it is to be arranged into a pattern, such patterns are always less than the best possible arrangement of information. In order to bring such patterns up to date and so make better use of the contained information, one needs a mechanism for insight restructuring. This can never be provided by logical thinking which works to relate accepted concepts not to restructure them. Lateral thinking is demanded by the behaviour of this type of information processing system in order to bring about insight restructuring. The provocative function of lateral thinking and the challenging function are both directed towards this end. In both cases information is used in a manner that goes beyond reason for lateral thinking works outside of reason. Yet the need for lateral thinking is based quite logically on the deficiencies of a self-maximizing memory system which is the type of system that makes the mind capable of humour.

Lateral thinking works at an earlier stage than vertical thinking. Lateral thinking is used to restructure the perceptual pattern which is the way a situation is looked at. Vertical thinking then accepts that perceptual pattern and develops it. Lateral thinking is generative, vertical thinking is selective. Effectiveness is the aim of both. In ordinary traditional thinking, we have developed no methods for going beyond the adequate. As soon as something is satisfactory our thinking must stop. And yet there may be many better arrangements of information beyond the merely, adequate. Once one has reached an adequate answer then it is difficult to proceed with logical thinking because the rejection mechanism which is the basis of logical thinking can no longer function well. With lateral thinking, one can easily proceed beyond the adequate by insight restructuring. Lateral thinking is especially useful in problem-solving and in the generation of new ideas. But it is not confined to these situations for it is an essential part of all thinking. Without a method for changing concepts and bringing them up to date one is liable to be trapped by concepts that are more harmful than useful. Moreover, rigid concept patterns can actually create a great number of problems. Such problems are particularly fierce since they cannot be altered by available evidence but only by insight restructuring. The need to change ideas is becoming more and more obvious as technology speeds up the rate of communication and progress. We have never developed very satisfactory methods for changing ideas but have always relied on conflict Lateral thinking is directed towards bringing about changes in ideas through insight restructuring.

 Lateral thinking is directly concerned with insight and with creativity. But whereas both these processes are usually only recognized after they have happened lateral thinking is a deliberate way of using the information in order to bring them about. In practice, lateral thinking and vertical thinking are so complementary that they are mixed together. Nevertheless, it is best to treat them as distinct in order to understand the basic nature of lateral thinking and acquire skills in its use. This also prevents confusion because the principles governing the use of information in lateral thinking are quite different from the ones used in vertical thinking. It is difficult to acquire any sort of skill in lateral thinking simply by reading about it. In order to develop such skill, one must practice and go on practicing and that is why there has been such emphasis in this book on practice sessions. Nor are exhortation and goodwill enough. There are specific techniques for the application of lateral thinking. The purpose of such techniques is twofold. They can be used for their own sake but more importantly, they can be used to develop the lateral habit of the mind.

In order to use lateral effectively, one needs a practical language tool. Such a tool is necessary to allow one to use information in the special way required by lateral thinking and also to indicate to others what is being done. This tool is PO. PO is an insight tool. PO is the laxative of language. It acts to relax the rigidity of the tight patterns so easily formed by the mind and provoke new patterns. Lateral thinking is not concerned with generating doubt for the sake of doubt or chaos for the sake of chaos. Lateral thinking acknowledges the extreme usefulness of order and of pattern. But it emphasizes the need for changing these to bring them up to date and make them even more useful. Lateral thinking particularly emphasizes the dangers of rigid patterns which the mind is so apt to construct because of the way it handles information.


In a nutshell, this book is a good read for those who wish to expand their minds on the creative process of thinking. The book clearly distinguishes between vertical and lateral thinking. However, some terms and concepts described in the book may be a little complex to the average reader. Nevertheless, the book is quite interesting as it covers several concepts related to lateral thinking such as how the mind works, attitudes towards lateral thinking, challenging assumptions, and problem-solving. Therefore, this book is recommended to anyone who wishes to expand their thinking and shed new light on a different thinking perspective.

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