Breakthrough Problem Solving with Lateral Thinking

4 min readNov 9, 2023
Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

When confronting a challenging problem, our natural instinct is to attack it head-on, doubling down on traditional linear logic. We assume systematically evaluating the facts and progressing step-by-step will eventually lead to a solution.

But some of history’s greatest innovations emerged not from logical thinking alone, but from flipping the problem on its head. Breakthroughs require breaking from conventional problem-solving ruts to discover creative new perspectives. This is where lateral thinking comes in.

Pioneered by world-renowned thinker Edward de Bono, lateral thinking is about challenging assumptions, approaching problems indirectly, and making unexpected connections across disciplines. Unlike vertical, logical thinking, lateral thinking relies on creative and unorthodox strategies to shift perspectives and reveal solutions.

With lateral thinking tools and mindset shifts, we can break free from counterproductive mental patterns. Thinking “out of the box” generates those eureka sparks that lead to original solutions. As de Bono notes, “Creative thinking is not a talent; it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate profits.”

Key principles and tactics of lateral thinking that lead to breakthrough insights:

Question Assumptions

The first step in jarring yourself out of rigid thought patterns is to critically examine the underlying assumptions and supposed constraints around a problem. Ask probing questions, such as:

  • Why is this limitation necessarily true? Says who?
  • What do we accept as given or absolute truth that can be challenged?
  • How would we define this problem if we had no preconceptions?
  • Why does the solution have to be x when we can approach it from angles a, b or c?

Skeptically re-evaluating assumptions opens up possibilities. Hidden flaws in logic get exposed, and more potential paths forward emerge when you realize supposed “truths” are not so definitive after all. Tunnel vision gives way to expanded…




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