Lateral Thinking

“The Lateral Thinking creativity program provides you with a number of proven and concrete ways to learn the power of creativity and innovation.” – Edward de Bono

Lateral Thinking, created by Edward de Bono, provides a deliberate, systematic process resulting in innovative thinking.

Lateral Thinking training will teach you how to think creatively, turn problems into opportunities, find alternative solutions, & dramatically increase your number of new and practical ideas using unconventional thinking techniques normally untapped by our usual ways of thinking.

Who Needs Lateral Thinking?

Not only people who devise strategy or work in R & D, but anyone who wants a disciplined process for innovation, idea generation, concept development, creative problem solving, or a strategy to challenge the status quo can benefit from Lateral Thinking.

If you face fast-changing trends, fierce competition, and the need to work miracles, you need Lateral Thinking.

Lateral Thinking Techniques

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Alternatives / Concept Extraction, involves the use of concepts to generate new ideas.

Willingness to look for ideas—even when doing so doesn’t seem necessary—is the very essence of creativity. Becoming adept at working with concepts makes the search for ideas much easier.

Concepts are general ideas or general ways of doing things. Every concept has to be put into action through a specific idea. Thinking of a variety of specific ways to implement a concept is one way to generate ideas. Then each specific idea can be mined for additional concepts. Extracting a new concept creates a whole new pathway for generating further specific ideas.

Alternatives / Concept Extraction Example: How do we stop this area of the city from flooding?

One concept is to erect barriers that prevent the water from entering the area.
So what are some specific ideas for barriers we could erect?

  • We could create earthen mounds along the river banks.
  • We could put up a concrete damn to hold the water back.

What is another concept behind creating earthen mounds?

  • Changing the surface of the landscape near the river.

What are some other specific ideas for changing the landscape to help prevent flooding?

  • Dig auxiliary channels that drain the excess water safely away from the city.
  • Make the main river channel deeper and wider so that its capacity to hold water is expanded.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Focus, helps sharpen or change your perspective to improve your creative efforts. “Focus” is not commonly thought of as a tool, but it is. For example, you can learn to focus on areas that no one else has bothered to think about. Doing so may lead you to a breakthrough idea simply because you are the first person to pay any attention to this area.

Just moving through a typical day, you can deliberately notice what is going on at any given moment and choose to focus on your surroundings or activities to look for new ideas.

Focus Example: You are in a dentist’s office waiting for an appointment. The office contains some magazines, a television, a couple of child’s toys, and an aquarium for people to look at while they wait. You decide to think of ideas for ways to make the wait more enjoyable or productive.

  • Put out books of crossword puzzles, brain teasers, and sudoku.
  • Make available several laptops with free wireless access.
  • Convert one wall of the waiting room into a white board with a sign inviting people to doodle or draw on it.

The ability to define a creative focus at will provides a big advantage in becoming a more innovative thinker. Knowing how to include general areas for a focus as well as problem areas further expands your chances of coming up with innovative ideas.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Challenge, helps you break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating. Challenge is key to innovation because it is based on the assumption that there may be a different way to do something even if there is no apparent problem with the current way of doing it.

Challenge Example: Mel Brown is the purchasing manager for a chemical company. Things seem to be running smoothly, and he is getting good reviews on his work. He sets aside Friday mornings for creative thinking and today he chooses an area focus: building entryways. He decides to challenge current thinking about entryways and lists things that the company takes for granted:

  • The company logo will be prominently displayed.
  • The ambiance will be welcoming to visitors.
  • There is a security guard at each entry point.
  • Visitors are required to sign in and receive a badge to enter.

Mr. Brown looks at his list for things to challenge. He chooses the presence of security guards.

Could we cut them without altering anything else? No

Are there an alternative to having security guards? Yes

  1. Require all visitors to register online with the person they are scheduled to meet. That person verifies the visitor and gives them a code that is good for the scheduled time and date only. The visitor is instructed to bring this code and enter it at a locked door in order to enter. Security guards are no longer needed.
  2. Create an entry lounge something like a hotel lounge. Guests are guided into this lounge via signage and find a bank of telephones or computers with instructions to contact the person they’re meeting and announce their arrival. That employee vets his or her visitor and buzzes them through a locked entry. Refreshments and amusements are provided in the lounge for those visitors who cannot immediately reach their contact.

Mr. Brown decides to explore the first idea further. He makes plans to discuss it with the facilities managers at their next meeting.

One of the difficulties of accomplishing innovation is being successful. That’s because we are so focused on solving problems that we ignore things that are going well. The saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” blocks many opportunities for innovation.

Ways of doing things are only one topic for Challenge. You can also challenge objects, parts of situations, and the current assumptions and beliefs that are controlling our thinking.

The steps of the Challenge process are cued by three phrases: Why/C, Why/B, and Why/A.

  1. Why/C asks if something can simply be Cut or omitted.
  2. Why/B asks why something is the way it is. Because why?
  3. Why/A prompts a search for Alternatives.

Challenge seems to mystify some users, while it becomes a powerful tool in the hands of others. When you use Challenge successfully, you can create major breakthroughs.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Random Entry, uses a randomly chosen word, picture, sound, or other stimulus to open new lines of thinking. This tool plays into the power of the human mind to find connections between seemingly unrelated things.

First, the person or group lists all the alternatives that they can think of without using the tool, Then they select a random word or other random stimulus. Then they juxtapose the stimulus alongside the focus topic and generate ideas to connect the two.

Random Entry Example: The training division of a large IT company wants its trainees to feel at home while they spend several weeks at an off-site learning center. The training team lists alternatives and then chooses a picture at random from a pile of photos to use as a stimulus for more ideas. The picture shows a teapot. They then list ideas that connect the teapot to their focus.

  • Teapots are rounded. We could arrange all of the chairs in meeting rooms in circles so that participants can see each other and feel more a part of a group.
  • Teapots are often wrapped in cozies to help them retain their heat. We can assign each participant to a permanent study group and provide each group with activities and feedback that encourages collaboration and individual recognition.

Random Entry is one of the easier tools to use with untrained groups, so long as the leader knows what he or she is doing. The results are quick and often innovative.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tools, Provocation & Movement, help us move from a provocative statement to useful ideas.

Employees are often admonished to “think outside the box” with no instructions for how to do so. Provocation & Movement designate a formal process that enables you exit the box with ease—and return with a compelling list of innovative ideas to consider.

First participants learn the definition of a Provocation, or PO. Then they prepare for the uncomfortable fact that Provocations are deliberately unreasonable ideas that would be immediately vetoed by those who do not understand the process.

Trained Lateral Thinkers know that these ideas are only posed to change perception and offer a new starting point from which to move to more practical alternatives. They use Movement techniques to get from the Provocation to an idea that could work.

Provocation & Movement Example: Many years ago Dr. de Bono was demonstrating Lateral Thinking tools for New York Magazine. One of the topics given to him was the shortage of police officers to patrol the streets. Using a Provocation technique called Exaggeration, Dr. de Bono produced this statement: “The police have six eyes.”

From this came the suggestion that individual citizens act as extra eyes to watch for unusual activities in their neighborhoods. The whole interview was written up in the magazine and this particular idea led to the development of the Neighborhood Watch program, now used widely throughout the United States and Canada.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Harvesting, is applied toward the end of a thinking session in order to bank ideas that may prove to be valuable in the current situation or in the future.

Harvesting both increases the number of ideas that are saved and provides a way to organize ideas by how developed they are at present. Harvesting helps you spot ideas that could be implemented right away as well as those that need more work. By Harvesting, you can avoid moving too quickly to choose among all of the ideas you’ve generated. Instead, take a longer look and make the most of the “yield.”

Harvesting Example: A newly launched web-based business that sells sailing gear is thinking of ways to attract likely prospects to its site. Here are two of the ideas produced in a thinking session:

  • Use social media.
  • Write a white paper on the care and repair of sails.

During Harvesting, “Use social media” was considered a Beginning Idea that would need further development. “Write a white paper on the care and repair of sails” was a Specific Idea that could be executed right away.

Both ideas were saved. The white paper was written and posted within a week and “Use social media” led to the creation of a blog about sailing trends. The team later revisited “Use social media” and used Concept Extraction to produce many further ideas.

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking tool, Treatment of Ideas, helps develop ideas and shape them to fit an organization or situation.

Treatment is particularly useful for working with Beginning Ideas to make them more specific and practical. One Treatment method is called Shaping. Here you think of any constraints that might interfere with the execution of the idea. Then you shape the idea to fit within these constraints.

Treatment of Ideas Example: The human resources department of a large organization was generating ideas on how to market their lateral thinking classes internally. One idea was to offer the services of those who had already been trained to generate innovative ideas for those who had not had the training.

One of the constraints was that the trained lateral thinkers had their own jobs to do and were not readily available. Using Treatment, several ideas were generated for shaping the idea to address this constraint:

  • Publicize a set weekly time that the team would be available for a one-hour idea generation meeting.
  • Have focus areas submitted to the team online and then have team members contribute ideas individually when their schedules permitted.

The department chose to go online with their offer. Once the team produced several winning ideas for various departments, word began to spread about the power of Lateral Thinking. Eventually over 1,000 employees were trained and began to use the tools for themselves.

“Great business competitors are great lateral thinkers . . .” – Edward de Bono

How Might You Use Lateral Thinking?

The Lateral Thinking techniques are useful in a variety of applications.

  • Constructively challenge the status quo to enable new ideas to surface
  • Find and build on the concept behind an idea to create more ideas
  • Solve problems in ways that don’t initially come to mind
  • Use alternatives to liberate and harness the creative energy of the organization
  • Turn problems into opportunities
  • Select the best alternate ideas and implement them

“If you haven’t heard of Edward de Bono or of Lateral Thinking, perhaps you have been too busy thinking in conventional ways.” – Forbes Magazine

Learn Lateral Thinking

Lateral Thinking On-Site Training Seminars
Bring our Lateral Thinking Instructor in-house to deliver a one- or two-day Lateral Thinking seminar.

Meeting Facilitation Using the de Bono Thinking Systems
de Bono Consulting will facilitate your meeting(s) using the de Bono Thinking Systems.

Lateral Thinking Train-the-Trainer Certification
Completing the Official Lateral Thinking Certification is required if you wish to teach Lateral Thinking to others.

Lateral Thinking Conference / Convention Presentations
Have de Bono Consulting present a Lateral Thinking keynote, general session, or breakout session. Call 1.800.278.1292 for details.

Lateral Thinking Results

  • Prudential’s Ron Barbaro (former CEO of Prudential-Canada) used their Lateral Thinking training to develop one of the most successful products for the insurance industry, “Living Benefits.”
  • DuPont benchmarked every creativity process on the market for its Creativity Center. Dr. David Tanner, former technical director of DuPont, says that “the de Bono techniques were the most useful” to DuPont. For example, an employee’s $30 million suggestion – the reengineering of a manufacturing process for Kevlar – eliminated nine steps in the manufacturing process as a result of using Lateral Thinking™ techniques.
  • Read more in Innovation: Case by Case by de Bono Consulting CEO and Founder, Barbara Stennes

Lateral Thinking Testimonials

“Great program! Very useful for strategic decisions and daily use. I will apply in sub-team work. Very useful at this specific moment . . .”

“A very useful exercise in providing a framework to stimulate out-of-the-box thinking.”

“Useful tools for the team to use going forward. Therefore, it was very useful for the team to participate together.”


Edward de Bono

“Very often I am told that an organisation has ‘more ideas than it can ever use’. I am always a little suspicious about that reply because it suggests that the ideas are not very good. You can never have too many ideas.”
— Edward de Bono