An increasing reliance on technology and the use of analytical thinking can ease working processes in today's hectic business environment. However, at the same time, without us knowing, this approach can also kill our ability to innovate. To simplify problem-solving and ideation, people tend to use the same problem-solving kit again and again, and once they stop challenging themselves in terms of creativity, they struggle to innovate.
In order to provide us with safe and precise decisions throughout the day, our brain is initially equipped to find the path of least resistance, but it acts as an obstacle when we are trying to be creative. As Albert Einstein referred to it: 'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.'
Most of the time when we perform tasks we use the vertical thinking. This is supported by logical solutions and a certain type of intuition acquired from solving the same problems repetitively. Think of driving a car – when we begin learning, we acquire knowledge by practicing and analyzing our actions. As time goes and we feel more confident, driving becomes a routine that doesn't require constant analysis. So with creativity, if a person learns how to solve a problem in one way, it's highly likely they will tend to use the same approach in similar situations. Regarding creativity, vertical thinking may act as an obstacle in the way of ideation.
Since the brain is designed to use pattern recognition as a way of developing ideas, lateral thinking is something a person can learn in order to boost creativity. The term was coined by Edward de Bono in 1967, and it is the process of solving a problem using an unusual or creative approach. When thinking logically we usually proceed with the safe and precise solution, taking the information around the problem with the already defined methodologies. Lateral thinking allows for the opposite mind frame, where solutions appear through indirect, unrelated approaches. Creative ideas, in that instance, exist in the form of avoiding the obvious and encouraging us to take into account uncommon solutions.
In order to benefit from this mindset, there are steps that can be applied to the working process. The whole approach is essentially based on questioning both solutions and a problem. Firstly, when faced with a challenge or a project, it's important to list the assumptions inherent to the question. Then, all obvious and straightforward solutions must be mapped out, leaving a thinker with the question: What else can solve this problem?
After outlining a problem/challenge and having all obvious solutions/options on hand, it's useful to then look at the situation from a different angle. It can be useful to look at it as if someone else was trying to solve it. To do that, the problem can be put in a question and then be deconstructed and rewritten - the rearranged pieces can lead to a new scenario - creative solution.
Lateral thinking can be applied individually as well as across entire corporate cultures. The framework itself can be learned individually but the right environment can retain creativity. Creativity can't exist in a vacuum so many companies create fewer physical boundaries in the office to break down creative boundaries among employees. Through creating an open space and an environment where everyone is comfortable with sharing ideas, acquiring a lateral thinking approach becomes considerably simpler.