Monday, April 19, 2010

The power of lateral thinking.

Post 469 - Reading Edward de Bono's book New Think over the weekend, I was reminded again of the difference between vertical and lateral thinking. Vertical thinking begins with a single idea and then proceeds with that idea until a solution is reached. Lateral thinking generates alternative ways of seeing the problem before looking for a solution.

DeBono explains this by talking about digging holes:
Logic is the tool that's used to dig holes deeper and bigger, to make them altogether better holes. But if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of improvement is going to put it in the right place. No matter how obvious this may seem to every digger, it's still easier to go on digging in the same place than to start all over again in a new place. Vertical thinking is digging the same hole deeper; lateral thinking is trying again elsewhere.

de Bono acknowledges the advantages of digging in the same hole, agreeing that "a half-dug hole offers a direction in which to expend effort." He also points out that no one is paid to sit around being capable of achievement. Since there's no way to assess such capability, we have to pay and promote people according to their visible achievements. So it can work to your advantage to dig the wrong hole (even one that's recognized as being wrong) to an impressive depth than sitting around wondering where to start digging. However, breakthroughs usually come when someone abandons a partly-dug hole and starts afresh in a different place.

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint, and this is part of the reason that they're successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at problems from emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoints. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to change, don't make creative leaps, and fail to make essential contingency plans. Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and people used to a very logical approach to problem solving may fail to engage their creativity or listen to their intuition.

Tomorrow, I'll cover de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats," which is a way to look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. This helps make better decisions by pushing people to move outside their habitual ways of thinking. Thus by understanding the full complexity of a decision, they can spot issues and opportunities which they might not otherwise notice.

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