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How Do We Cultivate Lateral Thinking?

Lateral thinking solves problems by approaching them at an angle, instead of in an analytical fashion. We have been raised in a culture that tend to emphasis analytical/logical thinking, especially in this day of computers. And this can tend to get us in a rut, as we habitually approach questions in the same way, and keep coming up with the same type of answers. Lateral thinking  considers all the possibilities, including the foolish sounding ones, to give far more possible answers, including a few useful options.

There are a few ways to encourage lateral thinking.


We tend to think in patterns and procedures. If we become more aware of that we can resist established patterns.

Random Stimulation

Instead of just concentrating on the issue we should look at the bigger picture, embrace wandering thought, read about similar situations, draw diagrams, think like a cartoon character.


Think of all possible alternate solutions, including far-fetched ideas, and even solutions that bypass the problem altogether. Look at what absolutely shouldn’t be done, and then work backwards.


Look at the relationship between parts of a problem, then go in the opposite direction. Use analogies, and then translate back from these analogies.

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Some lateral thinking answers to problems include:

There has been a long-standing problem with poachers in Africa killing elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns. How do we prevent this? Animal shelters? Guards? Fines for poaching?
The tusks and horns of the animals were dyed pink, so they lost their commercial value, and poachers could no longer sell them.

A car travelling down a narrow road is blocked by a flock of sheep. How do we more the car past the sheep, or get the sheep to step aside?
Instead, we keep the car still, and get the sheep to move past, behind the car.

In the 19th century people would go to a store and ask for the items then needed. The store attendant would fetch the items and then take the payment. This was a slow process when there were many people waiting. How did they make it faster? Add more store assistants. This means paying more people.
Put the items on display so the customer finds them, then they only need the store attendant when they pay. This is how supermarkets developed.

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We can only go so far by following the conventions. Lateral thinking allows us to find useful solutions to problems, and make (or at least suggest) paradigm shifts. These are needed for yet unseen problems of the future.

A thorough education goes beyond facts and concepts. Being able to be creative, be innovative, using our knowledge in original ways – this is a useful approach to education.

Education develops the individuals, who then contributes more to the society that they are a part of.

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