On Lateral Thinking

“With Withered Technology”

– Gunepei Yokoi

Last Updated on



Have you ever been stuck in the middle of nowhere during a project at work?

You try to analyze the root cause.

You think about the issue practically.

But no clue how to move forward with logical thinking.

This post is about the other half of thinking.

Introducing Lateral Thinking

In the late 60s, a researcher Edward de Bono introduced a new way to develop a creative idea and called it lateral thinking.

In contrast to logical thinking (which he defined as vertical thinking), it urges you to come up with a creative, out-of-the-box idea.

We often fall in the trap of thinking too logically, because that’s how we’ve been taught at school.

If you’re given a maze, you enter the start and end with the goal, right?

This approach has two problems. First, there might be a faster way to do it.

Second, more importantly, the world is full of problems without a logical solution.

Lateral thinking challenges you to deliberately ignore the existing solutions and look at the issue from different perspectives.

The birth of the Nintendo Game Boy was a result of lateral thinking.

The creator Gunpei Yokoi didn’t try to pursue new technologies.

He did instead gather a collection of technologies that are already widely available and assemble them as one piece of technology.

Game Boy wasn’t a new technology. It was a technology assembled in a new way. 

This is why Bono sees lateral thinking as “insight restructuring” [1]

How to Practice Lateral Thinking

Now how can we bring lateral thinking to our daily lives?

Let me introduce two quick tips.

Utilizing Randomness

Randomly pick up a book and open it up, then read through the page.

Find anything you can relate to what you do.

Even though we try to think creatively, humans are wired to see things with patterns.

This exercise breaks your patterns by bringing randomness to your brain and sparks inspiration.

Doubting hypothesis

The next one is carefully asking why things are going as they have been, NOT by going through data but asking critical questions. A quick example.

Let’s say employees are not happy. On data, they said their commute time is too long and they’re over-working.

With logical thinking, you might conclude that you should introduce remote work or increase productivity.

With lateral thinking, you challenge the hypothesis.

In the first place, why aren’t they happy? Is the long-commute really the issue?

It might be because their relationships are fundamentally broken rather than their commutes, and they don’t want to come to the office.

With lateral thinking, instead of fixing the commuting, you ask the question itself.

Don’t restrict your thinking too logically with what you see and hear. That’s just half of it.

While solving problems vertically, you should approach it laterally too.


[1] https://www.edwddebono.com/lateral-thinking

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