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Lateral Thinking Cover.jpg






Copyright James F. Coyle 1995, 2014



Lateral Thinking is the ability to arrive at an inspirational conclusion by using an "insight" switch in thinking to a different track!

It is the ability to add a slight "twist" to the pattern of logical thinking to produce an unexpected answer!

Lateral inspirational thinking is when you suddenly 'leap' from one line of logical thinking to another ..... unexpectedly! ..... as in the punch-line of a joke!


You're in a meeting brainstorming about a specific problem. Suddenly, as a result of something someone says, you have an inspiration. The answer flashes

into your mind!

Everyone in the room agrees that this is the answer! No doubt about it!

Great stuff but the problem is .... you're so impressed with your own cleverness in thinking of the answer, that you instantly "tunnel mind-vision" and

you can't see that any other answer is possible!

You have had an inspiration which was triggered by a comment made by one of your group!

But, by using a predetermined specific lateral thinking process, you may be able to come up with several of these "aha" solutions!

Basically your inspirational solution was triggered by an outside comment or influence.

And this is how lateral processing can be made to work at will ...... by an outside trigger!


Consider the computer! It consists of two sections ...... a memory section and a processing section. The memory section is equivalent to a giant

warehouse that stores stock.

The processing section is equivalent to the warehouse office foreman, who directs all the forklifts that manage the placement and retrieval of this stock.

The heart of it all is the memory (or storage) section. If the warehouse foreman tells a forklift driver to go down to row E, and check shelf 3, bay 18,

 for stock, then the driver can report back only one of two situations ...... either the stock is there in that position or it is not! There is no between

answer possible. And that is how a computer memory works!

It's either yes .... or .... no! Either the logic circuit is in the off mode (yes or no) at that particular storage position designated. It cannot be in a

"maybe" mode!

And the human mental logic processing system works along the same lines. When we follow a line of thought to a logical conclusion, we follow

 this yes/no process until we reach the conclusion we need.


It is an observable fact that schools are places where existing knowledge is passed on. Hence the end-of-year exams. If you get the schooling process

 right, you pass the exam. But brand new knowledge and the methods of mentally expanding and evolving the concepts implied by this knowledge,

 are beyond the curriculum of the general school system.

Universities used to be the place of ideas research. Now, apart from a few notable exceptions, this role has been taken over by private research

companies. Most quantum leaps in science and technology have taken place in private industry. Look at Silicon Valley in California. The electronic

revolution was born there! Among hundreds of privately owned firms.

The ability to look laterally at things is taught, as far as I can estimate, at less than 1% of schools.

Our everyday logical thinking has been the basis of our mental processing for over 2000 years, since the era of the ancient Greeks. While every other

form of science has evolved enormously since then ...... thinking has not! Until ...... Dr. Edward DeBono, one of the brightest analytical minds on the

planet, came up with a controlled and triggerable style of inspirational mental processing ...... LATERAL THINKING!

And it is a sad fact, that even today, education is not designed to teach people to think - it is designed to transfer existing knowledge!

In higher education these days, there seems to be no "thirst" for new knowledge ...... only a "thirst" to learn existing knowledge!

After 2000 odd years, it has become obvious that ordinary vertical thinking has an inherent restriction ...... because ...... you cannot always see

something in a new way by simply looking at it harder in the old way!


Let us look at what happens when a problem has to be solved.


There are a number of possible solutions. You start a logical vertical thought process which takes you so far ..... and then you get stuck!

Now at this point, by introducing, intentionally, a trigger situation, you find that your mind suddenly leaps to a new vertical path, and with a bit

 more logical thought, a solution materializes.

When you think laterally ...... you move your search for the solution sideways ...... so you can continue on a new vertical track!

Lateral sideways.jpg

As explained earlier, logical thinking is based on the yes/no process, but if we introduce a new component ...... a maybe ...... we can use it to

generate the required lateral shift to move ourselves over from that "stuck" position.

Now before we go any further, ask yourself if everything is clear so far. If not, go back to the diagram and study it again.

The secret to the whole process as Edward DeBono discovered, was this magic "maybe" trigger!

He evolved a new word for it ...... which he called ...... "PO"!

It is sometimes convenient to think of this as an abbreviated word for "suppose".

This "PO" concept acts like a reverse gear in a car. Without reverse, we can get stuck in any blind alley, but with reverse, you can back out!

It is a special gear used in addition to your normal forward gear. PO is a mental reverse gear! It enables you to reset your mind pattern so you

can think your way out of a dead-end situation and proceed in a forward direction.

PO acts to create a "sideways" leap into an alternative logical thought pattern ...... by introducing discontinuity!

Dr. DeBono found that by introducing this "PO" concept into our obsolete 2-3000 year old thinking process, we could jump past mental blocks and barriers.

At this point, I won't go into full details of the "PO" concept.  What I will do however, is show you how to use this "PO" concept.

Very briefly...... there are two ways to use "PO" ........

"PO" as a Storage Factor!

The "PO" factor can be used to instigate a temporary storage of a solution that looks, on the surface, ridiculous! You mentally maintain this concept

for a short period of time to use it as a "stepping stone" to more logical solutions.

"PO" as a Triggering Factor!

"PO" can be used to set up an extraneous factor by introducing outside or fringe trigger words to evolve a way past a block in your logical processing


Now let's look at the first concept ...... using "PO" as a storage / ridiculous factor -

I used this very same concept many years ago to solve the problem of how to double the turnover of a local supermarket without increasing advertising


My thinking went like this .....

"PO" - give the food away free (Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But stick with me ......)

What would happen if the food were free? Logical answer ...... everyone in town would rush in to get their free food at the supermarket .....

word-of-mouth advertising!

Result ...... no profit ...... end of supermarket !!!

"PO " - give some food away free! Logical thought .... how could this be done in a manner which ensured financial survival of the business?

"PO" - give the food away to selected customers only! And by following logical thinking from here, the result was not only inspirational but

highly effective!

We gave food away to random customers ...... selected at random electronically when they paid their bill at the check-out. Every so often, a bell

would ring ...... lights would flash and the customer who was selected at random by the electronics attached to the cash registers, would find they

 got their groceries for free! This was triggered to happen on an average once every 30-50 customers, which on a busy day was every 15-20 minutes,

so virtually everyone who walked into that supermarket, saw some lucky customer get a "win"!

The newspapers thought this was fantastic! So did the customers!

The supermarket was able to cut its newspaper advertising bill by over 80%. Word-of-mouth did the rest! The free groceries and the reduced

advertising bill still meant that the owner was paying about the same "promotional" costs every month ...... but ...... his customers doubled!!!


Now, let's look at the second "PO" ..... the triggering factor!

Many years ago when I first attended lateral thinking seminars run by Edward DeBono, he gave quite a graphic demonstration on how much

to use this "trigger"! He handed one of the seminar attendees a dictionary and told her to shut her eyes and open the dictionary at any page.

He then told her to run her finger down the page and stop anywhere she liked. She was then told to open her eyes and tell us the main heading word

nearest her finger. (It turned out that any word at all will do, providing it is not deliberately selected).

The word she picked out was ..... incubate!

Now to the problem DeBono set us, which was solved with the use of this "trigger" word ......

The problem was given as follows ......

You are driving down town in your car and you suddenly realize that you are out of cigarettes.

You see a corner store up ahead so you pull up in front of this shop and whip inside to buy a packet. You leave your car running and the keys in

the ignition. You are in the shop less than 60 seconds but as you come out, you see your car disappearing down the road. It has been stolen! You

report this to the Police but realize you may never see your car again!

However, a week later, you are walking down a side street in another part of town and amazingly you see your car, parked in front of a sleazy bar.

You hastily glance into your car and you see that it is locked. You are in an isolated part of town and you are naturally reluctant to go into the bar

in search of the thief. You figure that by the time you find a phone and the Police arrive, the car could have gone again. So, what to do?

Now this is the problem Dr. DeBono gave us. And we had selected the trigger word ...... incubate!

We were then invited to develop concepts around this word. We came up with the following ......

§  To hatch

§  To grow from nothing

§  Egg - round object - stationary

§  Inert object - capable of later life

§  To nurture under controlled conditions

§  Addition of special conditions to make it function as intended

§  etc. etc.

There were about 40 such suggestions but the ones above were selected as the most likely "key" trigger concepts. So we worked around them.

We kept coming back to ...... inert object - capable of later life.

This evolved into the statement that the car was inert until the key was inserted and the engine started. Someone else suggested that if the

incubator was not switched on, the process could not complete itself. A logical train of thought from here suggested the fact that if the key

could not be inserted into the ignition, the engine could not be started.

Then someone suggested that if the door key were prevented from opening the door from the outside, the same effect could be achieved.

Bingo! It was suggested that the door locks be jammed ..... with bits of slit matchsticks in the keyholes, so that the key couldn't be inserted

into the car door.

Simultaneously, someone suggested that to further make the "incubator" inert that two tires be let down. With only one spare tire available,

the car couldn't be made mobile quickly!

Do you see how it works?

Now, obviously all this is not very practical if you're standing in front of your stolen car, but as you get more and more into the use of lateral

thinking, then these "lateral" solutions pop into your mind spontaneously!

I was personally most impressed with this example. I could see how a "random" word could trigger a lateral sideways movement in ordinary

thinking. In fact, I remember thinking that this is so simple ..... it's stupid! But over the years, I've found that it not only works, but usually

 works without fail!

I have developed, however, 10 random words that seem to give me the best results. Each word has a strong implication and meaning attached

to it. By attaching one of these to your problem, a lateral influence is exerted by forcing you to think along a totally different track ..... a track

which you would normally not consider! A bit like the reverse gear in the car.

Here are the words I use ......

1. Ridiculous
2. Invert
3. Reverse
4. Escape
5. Kamikaze
6. Deity
7. Impossible
8. Container
9. Window
10. Time

Each word has a number attached to it. I keep 10 little squares of cardboard in a glass tumbler.

Each piece has a number on it. When I need a word I close my eyes, shake the tumbler and pick out one piece at random. If it has on it, for

 example, the number 8, I use the associated word "container".


In logical vertical thinking, we concentrate on what is relevant and ignore the rest.

In lateral thinking, by the use of "PO", we concentrate temporarily on something which is irrelevant and ignore the rest in the meantime!

Other events may also trigger a sideways lateral movement in your thinking pattern.

You may, for example, wander into a hardware shop or some other place where you don't normally go, and because of your mental absorption

with the products on display, your subconscious may trigger a lateral shift in a problem that has been bothering you. In fact, any external events

at all which absorb your concentration, may trigger this intuitive “leap”!

After you use these intentional triggering devices for a while, they tend to become ingrained into your thought processes and become automatic.