Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity

Posted on March 25, 2012 by Jack Kelly
Tags: readings

Another book I’ve recently finished: Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity. This is the book that defined the term “lateral thinking” and defines it as orthogonal to traditional thinking, which De Bono calls “vertical thinking”. De Bono warns the reader that he may repeat himself to drive his points home, and he certainly does repeat himself a lot. His central point is that lateral thinking involves a deliberate suspension of judgement in order to enable people to hold onto arrangements of ideas that would usually be dismissed out of hand.

In order to achieve this, De Bono sets out a few techniques. One is to reverse aspects of a situation in order to generate a new idea. Imagine a policeman directing traffic at an intersection. Now turn it on its head and imagine the policeman summoning traffic, then the traffic controlling the policeman. Another technique he describes is the brainstorming session. Since that’s become commonplace, I won’t spend time describing it. A third technique involves pulling random words from somewhere in order to spark new lines of thought.

The most interesting technique in the book is the use of a made-up word called “po”. “Po” can fit just about anywhere in a sentence and is used to hold ideas without making any judgement about them. It can be used to connect two unrelated concepts to search for a new link between them (“computers po omelettes”).

The book could’ve presented its core ideas in about half the size, but the ideas are reasonably interesting. The techniques remind me a little of the heuristics in Polya’s How to Solve it. Polya’s heuristics are intended to help get from a problem to a solution, but De Bono’s techniques are designed to generate new lines of thought and possibly restructure the problem itself.

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