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Notes from reading Lateral Thinking

Aug. 2014
Generation of alternatives
In the natural search for alternatives one is looking for the best possible appr
oach, in the lateral search for alternatives one is trying to produce as many al
ternatives as possible. One is not looking for the best approach but for as many
different approaches as possible.
In the natural search for alternatives one stops when one comes to a promising a
pproach. In the lateral search for alternatives one acknowledges the promising a
pproach and may return to it later but one goes on generating other alternatives
In the natural search for alternatives one considers only reasonable alternative
s. In the lateral search for alternatives these do not have to be reasonable.
The main difference is the purpose behind the search for alternatives. The natur
al inclination is to search for alternatives in order to find the best one. In l
ateral thinking however the purpose of the search is to loosen up rigid patterns
and to provoke new patterns. Several things may happen with this search for alt
One may generate a number of alternatives and then return to the original most o
bvious one.
In order to change the search for alternatives from being a good intention to a
practical routine one can set a quota. A quota is a fixed number of alternative
ways of looking at a situation. The advantage of having a predetermined quota is
that one goes on generating alternatives until one has filled the quota and thi
s means that if a particularly promising alternative occurs early in the search
one acknowledges it and moves on instead of being captured by it. A further adva
ntage of the quota is that one has to make an effort to find or generate alterna
tives instead of simply awaiting the natural alternatives. One makes an effort t
o fill the quota even if the alternatives generated seem artificial or even ridi
culous. Suitable quotas might be three, four or five alternatives. Having a quota does not of course stop one generating even more alternatives but
it does ensure that one generates at least the minimum.
Exercises formulating different ways of evaluating geometric shapes. Various met
hods for identifying problems for assisting with generating alternative ideas ar
e discussed.
The purpose of the procedure is to loosen up rigid ways of looking at things, to
show that alternative ways are always present if one bothers to look for them,
and to acquire the habit of restructuring patterns.
Challenging Assumptions
Block problems
Why Technique (game)
The usual purpose of "why?" is to elicit information. One wants to be comforted
with some explanation which one can accept and be satisfied with. The lateral us
e of why is quite opposite. The intention is to create discomfort with any expla
nation. By refusing to be comforted with an explanation one tries to look at thi
ngs in a different way and so increases the possibility of restructuring the pat
Suspended Judgment
The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar there is to new ideas. It i
s better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always rig
ht by having no ideas at all.
The suspension of judgement can have the following effects: * An idea will survive longer and will breed further ideas. * Other people will offer ideas which their own judgement would have rejected. S
uch ideas may be extremely useful to those receiving them. * The ideas of others can be accepted for their stimulating effect instead of be
ing rejected. * Ideas which are judged to be wrong within the current frame of reference may s
urvive long enough to show that the frame of reference needs altering.
The practical application of this principle needs outlining for it is not much u
se accepting the principle but never applying it. In practice the principle lead
s to the following behavior: *One does not rush to judge or evaluate an idea. One does not regard judgement o
r evaluation as the most important thing that can be done to an idea. One prefer
s exploration.
*Some ideas are obviously wrong even when no attempt at judgement is made. In su
ch cases one shifts attention from why it is wrong to how it can be useful. *Even if one knows that an idea must eventually be thrown out one delays that mo
ment in order to extract as much usefulness from the idea as possible. *Instead of forcing an idea in the direction which judgement indicates, one foll
ows along behind it. A bucket with holes cannot carry much water. One could reject it out of hand. Or
one could see how far it could carry how much water. In spite of the holes it m
ay be very useful for bringing about a certain effect.
Dominant Ideas and Crucial Factors
The dominant idea organizes the situation. The crucial factor tethers it and tho
ugh some mobility is allowed this is restricted.
The purpose of isolating crucial factors is to examine them. Very often a crucia
l factor is an assumption at least the "crucial" nature of that factor is an ass
umption. Once the factor is isolated one challenges the necessity for it. If the
factor is found not to be crucial then the tethering effect of that factor disa
ppears and there is more freedom in structuring the situation in a different way
In looking for the dominant idea one wants to know, "why are we always looking a
t this thing in the same way?" In looking for the crucial factor one wants to kn
ow, "what is holding us up, what is keeping us to this old approach?
In itself the search for dominant ideas or crucial factors is not a lateral thin
king process at all. It is a necessary step which allows one to use lateral thin
king more effectively. It is difficult to restructure a pattern unless one can s
ee the pattern. It is difficult to loosen up a pattern unless one can identify t
he rigid points.