Lateral thinking

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lateral thinking (from Latin latus "side"), colloquially also called lateral thinking , is a thinking method that can be used in the context of the application of creativity techniques to solve problems or to find ideas.


The term was introduced by Edward de Bono in 1967 and has been used in numerous publications since then. Occasionally, the term non-linear thinking is also used in technical language . Colloquially it also means thinking outside the box or thinking outside the box . The antonym is vertical or linear thinking.

Edward de Bono also coined the term “ parallel thinking ” to describe the ability to systematically adopt different perspectives of thought and perception in relation to any topic. The most important example of parallel thinking are De Bono's thinking hats ; they are now used worldwide in large organizations in the areas of creativity, but also communication and team development.

De Bono's concept differs only in nuances from that of Joy Paul Guilford . He used the technical term divergent thinking instead of lateral thinking or the term convergent thinking instead of vertical thinking . Due to their strong similarity, the designation pairs are used largely with the same meaning.


In contrast to vertical thinking , which runs step by step (continuously) and is based on practiced patterns , lateral thinking is characterized by the following principles:

  • It is permitted that existing information is subjectively assessed and used selectively. Details are not recorded analytically, but rather intuitively .
  • Intellectual jumps and associations are allowed, not every intermediate result has to be correct.
  • Yes / no decisions are avoided. Unworkable solutions can also be a step towards better understanding the problem.
  • Conventional thought patterns are challenged by e.g. B. is consciously looking for the most unlikely solution to a problem.
  • The initial situation and framework conditions are not accepted as unchangeable.

The technique of lateral thinking can be practiced and used in a targeted manner as part of a creative process . Depending on the problem, it does not necessarily lead to a practically implementable solution, but it can open up new perspectives.


The question "How many games have to take place in order to determine the winner of a tournament with 111 participants in a knockout system ?" Is answered by most people through vertical thinking: 1st round 55 games (1 bye ) , 2nd round 28 games, 3rd round 14 games, 4th round 7 games, 5th round 3 games (1 bye), 6th round 2 games, 7th round 1 game. These numbers are determined step by step and then added up (110). The lateral thinking uses the result to determine without computational effort of a change in perspective, if there is a winner, there must be 110 losers. Each of them only loses once, so many matches are played accordingly.

Both methods come to the same result in this case, but in different ways.


Lateral thinking can be used as a technique for generating ideas in many problem areas (compare creativity techniques ).

In the management process , lateral thinking is one of several established creativity techniques when it comes to finding unconventional or innovative solutions to operational problems.

One type of puzzle that requires lateral thinking is the lateral .

Lateral thinker as a term

After lateral thinking in the 19th century meant helplessness, the first mention of a positive term lateral thinker is found in 1915 in connection with Münchhausen's “giant fantasy” .

While the ability to think laterally when solving problems in a liberal environment is usually rated positively today, the verbal stigmatization of a person as a lateral thinker has a negative connotation in a more traditionalist, perfectionist environment.


  • Edward de Bono: Lateral Thinking: a course to develop your creativity reserves. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1971, ISBN 3-498-00431-X .
  • Edward de Bono: Lateral thinking for leaders. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1972, ISBN 3-498-00439-5 .
  • Joachim Bröcher: Teach differently, go to school differently: Contributions to school and lesson development in the learning focus. Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 2007 (application of lateral thinking to school and teaching development).

Web links


  1. Matthias Nöllke : creativity techniques. Haufe, 2006, pp. 14-15.
  2. ^ Paul Neff: Literature sheet. Edited by Wolfgang Menzel. No. 42, April 22, 1836, p. 2 ( preview of page 166 in the Google book search); Quote: “By the way, the question is still very much whether thinking does not follow first after being, whether all thinking is not just a reflection, at least we must abstract from our poor cross and lateral thinking and speculation when creating the world and do not believe in God that he had long thought to himself how he would make the world. "
  3. Robert Müller: Power: Psychopolitical Foundations of the Present Atlantic War , H. Schmidt (1915), p. 21: "[...] no, I claim Münchhausen next to Faust as a German prehistoric man, this giant fantasy, this cross and lateral thinker, who himself and by hand [...] ”.