Creativity & Innovation

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Lateral thinking is a term invented by Edward de Bono. He defines it as a technique of problem solving by approaching problems indirectly at diverse angles instead of concentrating on one approach at length. For example:
It took two hours for two men to dig a hole five feet deep. How deep would it have been if ten men had dug the hole for two hours?

The answer appears to be 25 feet deep, but we can generate some Lateral thinking ideas about what affects the size of the hole:

A hole may need to be a certain size or shape so digging might stop early at a required depth.

The deeper a hole is the more effort is required to dig it since waste soil needs to be lifted higher to the ground level. There is a limit to how deep a hole can be dug by man power without use of ladders or hoists for soild removal, and 25 feet is beyond this limit.

Deeper soil layers may be harder to dig out, or we may hit bedrock or the water table.

Each man digging needs space to use a shovel.

It is possible that the more people you have working on a project, the more each person will assume he can slack off and there's more people to talk to.

More men could work in shifts to dig faster for longer.
We have more men but do we have more shovels.
Were the two hours dug by ten men may be different weather conditions to the two hours dug by two men.
Would we rather have 5 holes each 5 feet deep?
Rain could flood the hole to prevent digging
The two men may be an engineering crew with digging machinery.
What if one man in each group is a manager who will not actually dig?
Temperature conditions may freeze the men before they finish.

The most useful ideas listed above are outside the simple mathematics implied by the question. Lateral is about thinking that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

Techniques that apply Lateral thinking to problems are characterised by the shifting of thinking patterns away from entrenched or predictable thinking to new or unexpected ideas. A new idea that is the result of Lateral thinking is not always a helpful one, but when a good idea is discovered in this way it is usually obvious in hindsight, which is a feature Lateral Thinking shares with a joke.

A notation used in Lateral thinking, is Po. This stands for Provocative operation and is used to propose an idea which may not necessarily be a solution or a 'good' idea in itself, but moves thinking forward to a new place where new ideas may be produced.

Example problems

The problem is that Muhammad won't come to the mountain.
Po: The mountain must come to Muhammad (the classic answer).
Po: Use a video conference (an IT idea).
Po: Use an intermediary.
Po: Ask him what he wants to come to the mountain (a deal)
Po: See if he'll accept a free time share slot in a holiday home (that just happens to be on the mountain).
Po: Wait until he changes his mind.
Po: Cut your losses and tackle a different problem.
These are all Provocative operations and characterise a stage of Lateral Thinking where the ideas generated need further work in order to become solutions.

How long would it take to dig half a hole?
You can't dig half a hole.

If one egg takes three minutes to boil, how long do two eggs need to cook?
About three minutes (the energy needed to get the eggs to cook is small in comparison to the energy needed to get the surrounding water to boil)

If a knot in a 5-foot rope takes five minutes to undo, how long would a knot in a 10-foot rope take to undo?
Also five minutes (the length of rope usually has nothing to do with the complexity of the knot, and at most more rope might need to be pulled through the knot, but this will not double the overall time).

Selected Links about Lateral Thinking

"On the Internet there is much misleading and erroneous information about 'lateral thinking' and 'parallel thinkingtm'. Some of the sites make false claims about me and my work. Because this is my official website I want to take this opportunity of clarifying matters regarding lateral thinking and parallel thinkingtm*.

Brainstorming Software
Brainstorming is a group problem-solving technique that is intended to help members develop innovative new approaches to a problem in an unthreatening environment. First developed by A.F. Osborne in 1941, brainstorming in its most basic form involves stimulating all the members of a group to express a variety of ideas, which are built upon and recorded for future reference. Critical judgment of the ideas is reserved until later in the process, when the ideas are evaluated, combined, improved, and changed until the group reaches a final resolution of the problem. Brainstorming can be particularly useful in providing creative solutions to problems that have defied traditional problem-solving methods, as well as in such applications as new product development. This site contains software for brainstorming.

Lateral thinking puzzles
Paul Sloane's list of Classic Lateral Thinking Puzzles ... However, for a good lateral thinking puzzle, the proper answer will be the best in the sense of ... Lateral thinking puzzles are often strange situations which require an explanation. They are solved through a dialogue between the quizmaster who sets the puzzle and the solver or solvers who try to figure out the answer. The puzzles as stated generally do not contain sufficient information for the solver to uncover the solution. So a key part of the process is the asking of questions. The questions can receive one of only three possible answers - yes, no or irrelevant.

TIP: Theories
Lateral thinking applies to human problem-solving. DeBono (1971a) discusses the application of lateral thinking to management development and DeBono (1971b) ... "Edward de Bono has written extensively about the process of lateral thinking -- the generation of novel solutions to problems. The point of lateral thinking is that many problems require a different perspective to solve successfully. De Bono identifies four critical factors associated with lateral thinking: (1) recognize dominant ideas that polarize perception of a problem, (2) searching for different ways of looking at things, (3) relaxation of rigid control of thinking, and (4) use of chance to encourage other ideas. This last factor has to do with the fact that lateral thinking involves low-probability ideas which are unlikely to occur in the normal course of events. Although De Bono does not acknowledge any theoretical antecedents for lateral thinking, it seems closely related to the Gestalt theory of Wertheimer . His work is also highly relevant to the concept of creativity"...

Lateral Thinking and Technology Education
Journal of Science Education and Technology
The emergence of lateral thinking in recent years is a natural reaction to the enormous increase of information a human being is bombarded with, in the post industrial revolution era. Vertical thinking, with its sequential and fixed-order rules, which has been the foundation of traditional education, is increasingly being complemented by lateral thinking which aims at freeing the mind from the imprisonment caused by already established concepts and patterns. Thus paving the way for restructuring thinking patterns and generating new ideas. An attempt is made to show the context of lateral thinking to recent educational psychology developments. Developing lateral thinking skills has already become a pedagogical challenge to many educators. An analysis of technology education and its relevance to lateral thinking is presented in this article. Prospects for utilizing technology education as a platform and a contextual domain for nurturing lateral thinking are discussed. The main notion is that technology education, which is characterized by reconstructive learning activities of designing, making, using and evaluating of matter, energy and information in real-life situations is an appropriate environment for developing complementary incorporation of vertical and lateral thinking. Initial findings of a case study implementing lateral thinking through technology education are encouraging.

Divergent thinking and the design process
Luís Quental Pereira
The paper explores a view of research on creativity in design not based on traditional cognitive science models. Research from the creative cognition standpoint is reviewed with an example and the problem of applying it to the design case is explained. Creative techniques used in design lack a scientific base and lack an evaluation of their effectiveness. They emphasise the generation of ideas and not the generation of tangible solutions. The argument states that design research should be looking neither to the act of idea generation nor to the act of form generation and reinterpretation but to the enacted use environment in which designers operate and from which functions emerge. Departing from new models in cognitive science two hypotheses are formed. The first claims that the creative outcome in design may be based on an enacted experience of use and not on a rationalisation of imagery or represented forms. The second claims that diagrams created during the design process, mainly in its first stages,may serve the purpose of problem finding and not of problem solving.