The book 'Lateral Thinking' by Edward de Bono achieved the classic status in the field of lateral thinking. This book is very useful in learning to apply creativity more deliberately.

The lateral thinking book is useful in three ways (1) for teachers, to teach lateral thinking to students. Edward de Bono suggests setting aside a regular time for teaching (2) For parents to teach their children: In present schooling, mostly vertical thinking is taught. It may take some time for lateral thinking to become part of curriculum. Meanwhile, parents can take up the teaching of lateral thinking to their children themselves. (3) for individuals who want to apply lateral thinking in their career of life.

What is lateral thinking?

Quoting from research, Edward de Bono describes the mechanism of mind. Mind communicates using patterns. These preset patterns are good in terms of faster reactions; however they tend to make us rigid. Lateral thinking is an effort to break these patterns and bring creativity. Edward de Bono says Lateral thinking is closely related to insight, creativity and humour. Lateral thinking can be learnt by deliberate means.

What is the difference between lateral and vertical thinking?

Vertical thinking is logical and right in a specific context. The characteristic of lateral thinking is richness. Vertical thinking chooses one path exclusively (and closes others). Lateral thinking opens new path ways. Vertical thinking creates the best possible solution, lateral thinking creates many alternative approaches.

Vertical thinking helps us to move in the direction of solution. Lateral thinking makes us move just for the sake of moving.

  • Vertical thinking is logical and analytical. Lateral thinking provokes and stimulates.
  • With vertical thinking, one can be right in every step. This is not the case with lateral thinking.
  • Vertical thinking is more organized, lateral thinking is not.

We require both types of thinking. It is not the question of which one to use but how to use both.

How does lateral thinking work?

  • Normal logical or vertical thinking is pattern based. Lateral thinking is more concerned with changing the patterns. So the frequently used term 'out of box' thinking.
  • Lateral thinking is an attitude and also a method of processing information.
  • Lateral thinking is not a judgement.
  • The need for lateral thinking arises from the behaviour pattern of the mind and helps to break the patterns.

Consider the following conversation:

Mr Churchill sat next to Lady Astor at dinner. She told him 'Mr Churchill, if I was married to you, I should put poison in your coffee'.

Churchill replied 'Madam, if I was married to you, …I should drink the coffee'.

What are the benefits of lateral thinking?

Getting new ideas: Because of the habitual thinking patterns, we normally don't get new ideas though they are welcome. Some times we want new ideas as in a business which got stagnated, but again due to our habitual thinking ways, it is difficult to get some thing new. A conscious and deliberate effort to develop lateral thinking helps us to think in new ways, breaks the old patterns and helpful in generating new ideas whenever required.

Problem solving

Edward de Bono says that there are three types of problems. (1) Solution requiring more information or better techniques (2) Solution requires a re-arrangement of existing information; no new information needed (3) The problem of no-problem. The present situation is good enough with no motivation for betterment.

Among these three types, the first problem can be solved by logical or vertical thinking but other two need lateral thinking.

Periodic assessment

Lateral thinking is helpful in assessing a situation once in a while, a situation which seemed to be alright and which is taken for granted.

Prevention of biases

With habitual patterns of thinking, we tend to become rigid and polarized. A deliberate attempt to use lateral thinking helps in preventing our biases and getting carried away by regular thinking patterns.

How to develop lateral thinking?

Edward de bono presents various formal methods to provoke lateral thinking and insists that one needs to practice on a regular basis in order to develop this skill. Some of the techniques provided are briefed below. There are many practical exercises and activities given in these pages and one has to regularly practice them in order develop the ability of lateral thinking.


In normal thinking, one is looking for best approach. In case of lateral thinking, one looks at possible alternative approaches. Searching for alternatives does not mean that you discard the best approach. You merely get more alternatives and finally choose whatever is applicable.

Challenging assumptions

In problem solving generally there are assumed boundaries. Challenging them helps to find new solutions. One interesting technique Edward de Bono suggests is the 'why' technique.

Reversal Method

Another interesting technique is the reversal method. You just reverse the situation and see if some new ideas get generated. Taking the example from the book, a police man organizing the traffic can be reversed as traffic organizing police man or police man disorganizing traffic. Here we are not looking for correct names, but we are trying to break the patterns so as to find new ideas and solutions.


This is another popular technique. Suspending the judgement, ideas are generated by cross simulation – taking from other's ideas in the group. One takes notes, evaluation is not done until the session is over. After the session, evaluation is done by the same group or some other group and useful ideas are extracted.

Random stimulation

Taking a random input like a number or random word from dictionary, ideas are generated around a given problem. By deliberately mixing two unconnected pieces of information, a new pattern can emerge suggesting new solutions.

These are some techniques among many others, discussed by Edward de Bono. This is not a book for reading continuously. This is a book of specific techniques on lateral thinking which need to be practiced on a regular basis. This book is useful not only for parents and teachers but also for anyone looking for enhancing the lateral thinking skills.