In short, key thesis and memorable points.
There are 3 types of problems:
— the first type of problem requires for its solution more information or better techniques for handling information
— the second type of problem requires no new information but a re-arrangement of information already available: an insight restructuring
— the third type of problem is the problem of no problem. One is blocked by the adequacy of the present arrangement from moving to a much better one. There’s no point at which one can focus one’s efforts to reach the better arrangement because one is not even aware that there is a better arrangement. The problem is to realize that there is a problem — to realize that things can be improved and to define this realization as a problem.
It is historical continuity that maintains most assumptions — not a repeated assessment of their validity.
Sometimes a problem cannot be solved by trying different arrangements of the given pieces but only by reexamination of the pieces themselves.
Two fundamental aspects of the lateral thinking process:
— the deliberate generation of alternative ways of looking at things
— the challenging of assumptions
In themselves these processes are not far removed from ordinary vertical thinking. What is different is the «unreasonable» way in which the processes are applied and the purpose behind the application. Lateral thinking is concerned not with development but with restructuring.
The danger lies in the arrogance of the attitude that assumes that vertical thinking is sufficient. It is not. Exclusive emphasis on the need to be right all the time completely shuts out creativity and progress.
The dominant idea is never actually stated but for different groups the idea is different. When children try to design a machine for picking apples the dominant idea is «reaching the apples». The children think in personal terms which involve wanting one apple at a time and also the difficulty (for a small child) of actually reaching the apples. When the same design problem is given to an industrial engineering group the dominant idea is «effectiveness in commercial terms».
In looking for the dominant idea one wants to know, «why are we always looking at this thing in the same way». In looking for the crucial factor one wants to know, «what is holding us up, what is keeping us to this old approach?».
The more unified a pattern the more difficult it is to restructure it. Thus when a single standard pattern takes over from a collection of smaller patterns the situation becomes much more difficult to look at in a new way. In order to make such restructuring easier one tries to return to the collection of smaller patterns. If a child is given a complete doll’s house he has little choice but to use and admire it as it is. If however he is given a box of building blocks then he can assemble them in different ways to give a variety of houses.
It might seems that what is being recommended is the analysis of a situation into its key component parts. This is not so. One is not trying to find the true component parts of a situation, one is trying to create parts. The natural or true lines of division are usually not much good as the parts tend to reassemble to give the original pattern since this is how the pattern came about in the first place. With artificial divisions however there is more opportunity to put units together in novel ways.
The technique of two unit division (each step of division generates 2 new units) is not so much a technique but a method for encouraging the fractionation of a situation.
In the reversal method one takes things as they are and then turns them round, inside out, upside down, back to front. Then one sees what happens. It is a provocative rearrangement of information. You make water run uphill instead downhill. Instead of driving a car the car leads you.
In lateral thinking one is not looking for the right answer but for different arrangement of information which will provoke a different way of looking at the situation. Example: flock of sheep was slowly moving on the narrow road. Car approached and couldn’t pass the sheep, driver yelled at shepherd to move flock faster. Instead shepherd reversed the situation — he told the car to stop and the quietly turned the flock round and drove it back past the stationary car.
The main features of brainstorming sessions are:
— cross stimulation
— suspended judgement
— the formality of the setting
The new arrangement of information is a provocation which produces some effect. In a brainstorming session the provocation is supplied by the ideas of others. Since such ideas come from outside of one’s head, they can server to stimulate one’s own ideas.
Evaluation of brainstormed ideas. Place ideas into categories (directly useful; interesting approach; for further examination; discard)
The choice of entry point is of huge importance because the historical sequence in which ideas follow one another can completely determine the final outcome even if the ideas themselves are the same. (Example — fill bath with hot water and then add cold — all room will be steamed up. If first fill with little cold and then with hot water — no steam)
The difference may be huge even if the actual ideas considered are the same but in practice a different entry point will usually mean a different train of ideas. (Example — a picture of man with a stick in his hand followed by a picture of a dog running might suggest that the man is throwing sticks for the dog to retrieve. A picture of dog running followed by a picture with a man throwing sticks might suggest that the man is chasing the dog out of his garden).
To start at the wrong end and work backwards is quite a well-known problem solving technique. The reason why it is effective is that the line of thought may be quite different from what it would have been had one started at the beginning. (Example — in the tennis tournament there are 111 entrants. It is single knockout tournament and you need to arrange the matches. What is the minimum number of matches that would have to be arranged with this number of entrants? Some will do math, some will draw. But you can surely say that it will be 110 matches. Since there’s only can be one winner, there must be 110 losers. Because each loser can only lose once; shift of attention from winners to losers)
PO may seems a perversion designed to upset the highly useful system of logical thinking, permanent concepts and the pursuit of the most obvious. PO is not however a perversion but an escape. It does not destroy the usefulness of this system but adds to it by overcoming the rigidity which is the main limitation of the system. It is a holiday from the usual conventions of logic not an attack upon them.
PO means don’t be so arrogant, so dogmatic. Don’t have such a closed mind.
PO is never a judgement. This means that when PO is used to challenge something that you have said this does not imply disagreement or even doubt. PO is NEVER MET with a defence of what has been said. Nor is PO met with an exasperated «how else could it be put — how would you put it?». Furthermore PO is not and indication that the person saying it has a better alternative or even an alternative at all. What PO implies is «without disagreeing with what you say let us — both of us — try and put things together in a different way. It is not me against you but a joint search for an alternative structuring.». Joint search!
PO may involve the provocative use of information. This means that information may be put together in a fantastic and completely unjustified way which is covered by PO. In responding to this use of PO one does not argue that the arrangement of information is unacceptable. One does not demand the reason for putting the things together in this way. This is a stimulus which is used cooperatively by both parties.
In summary — PO is a tool to bring a cooperative restructuring of the situation. PO may be applied to idea, sentence, phrase, concept of just a word.
This process of being blocked by openness is very prevalent in thinking. In a way it is the basis of thinking for thinking has to make guesses and assumptions based on past experience. Useful as it is the process has definite disadvantages especially in terms of new ideas and of bringing patterns up to date. This process of being blocked by openness is at very centre of the need for lateral thinking. LT is an attempt to find alternative ways, an attempt to put things together in a new way, no matter how adequate the old way appears to be.
Normally one is only taught to think about things until one gets an adequate answer. One goes on exploring while things are unsatisfactory but as soon as the become satisfactory one stops. And yet there may be an answer or an arrangement of information that is far better than adequate one.
There are 3 practical situations which encourage the use of lateral thinking: 1) descriptions 2) problem solving 3) design
The first purpose of the design setting is to get students to generate alternatives. The second purpose is to get them to look beyond the adequate in order to produce something better. The third purpose is to free them from domination of cliche patterns. These three purposes paraphrase the purpose of LT.
LT works at an earlier stage than vertical thinking. LT is used to restructure the perceptual pattern which is the way a situation is looked at. VT then accepts that perceptual pattern and develops it. LT is generative, VT is selective. Effectiveness is the aim of both.