Unleashing the power of lateral thinking in your company

Creativity has always been a highly sought after skill both on the personal and professional side of life. In the business world, it means thinking up exciting ideas to tackle complex and ever-changing situations. It’s the foundation of lateral thinking.

The most innovative companies in the world stand out for their commitment to lateral thinking. Breaking the mold of what’s normal or expected means the possibilities are endless and the benefits can show in ways you least expect.

Read on for 5 steps to help you best utilize lateral thinking in your company. This guide will help you get the most out of your teams’ skills and push the whole company forward.

1. Open your mind

Edward de Bono, a psychologist from the University of Oxford, tells us we must seek new ideas, get out of our comfort zone, and change our perspectives. This allows us to put aside any preexisting stereotypes or traditional concepts in our collective imagination.

Through this process, we can change our perceptions to develop new ideas that may have been glossed over or ignored with vertical or logical thinking.

Opening our minds allows us to unleash a multitude of possibilities and create a new framework that incorporates the new ideas put forward. The imagination is both endless and collective in the workplace, and all members work together to understand, analyze, and accept new creative limits.

A practical example of expanding the limits of the mind is to ask yourself “why?” repeatedly until you get a better picture of the alternatives and underlying intentions of any particular action. By posing this question several times to an action or situation, we can find creative and productive misgivings that may lead us to rethink the norms we’ve become accustomed to, even on the granular level.

For instance, if a company usually has in-person meetings on Tuesday mornings, ask “why?” It may lead to alternatives like online meetings or changing the day or time for more productive ends. Accepting the idea that new possibilities or mindsets may arise during the process is the first step to opening the doors to creativity.

2. Promote creativity

After broadening mental horizons in the office, it’s important to nurture the flow of creative ideas. As Edward de Bono tells us, “creativity and simplification complement each other enormously. We must find new, alternative ways of doing things.”

However, not just any idea, just for being simple and different, will be effective. Good ideas need to add value and promote successful business proposals.

Visual responses can be a good creative stimuli. For example, a photograph allows us to practice creative interpretation. However, we don’t just interpret our acquired knowledge, we also combine it, reapply it to other contexts, and even develop alternatives to what we previously knew.

A photo of a product can produce a wide array of emotions and ideas –from the obvious to the abstract:

  • A description of how things are represented.
  • An explanation of what we see in the image.
  • A projection of what the product will look like in the future.
  • Imaginative alternatives as diverse as the user’s imagination allows.

3. Get ahead of the problem

Human beings in general often have a tendency to be reactive, not proactive creatures, waiting for a situation to worsen before deciding to act.

Yet, lateral thinking promotes proactivity and boldness to suggest and commit to ideas without fear of failing. The truth is that not all ideas are going to be a hit, but that shouldn’t hinder creativity. The idea is to create an environment that nurtures innovation, in whatever form it takes, and go from there.

There can be multiple solutions to any one problem. For example, most problems require a solution that falls into one or more of these general categories:

  1. Overcome whatever obstacle you’re facing.
  2. Plan better or create something new altogether.
  3. Find and get rid of a specific problem point.

Any combination of these three general approaches to problems can be applied in the early stages of developing a value proposition or any other such project. In doing so, not only do we give ourselves the possibility to consider other alternatives, but we can also forecast possible changes or complications that may arise.

In some proposals, these three general solutions may still be unsatisfactory, in which case they should be expanded and further hashed out. Nonetheless, this process helps us take a step back and analyze what we have in front of us. It generates conversation and feedback without having to wait for a problem to get out of hand first.

4. Put it up to chance

Once we’ve stepped out of our comfort zone, and our creativity is flowing, it’s important to let chance step in. Sometimes things that are out of our control affect us more than we’d like to admit. 

Stimulating lateral thinking, and taking seemingly unrelated elements into consideration, allows us to play two random concepts off each other and open up new ways of thinking.

An interesting exercise for this is to choose a random word (from a dictionary, for example) and see how that word would affect the idea at hand. It’s a good way to see how unforeseen circumstances will affect the fate of an idea.

You can overcome the limitations of logical thinking by throwing a wrench into the plan and seeing how it stands up to it. This rethinking prevents traditional thinking and parameters from limiting your scope, no matter how unlikely such situations may be. 

5. Apply logic in reverse

Vertical thinking is the sworn enemy of lateral thinking. The former limits itself to “common sense” and other traditional frameworks we’re used to.

Lateral thinking, however, allows us to consider a wider range of possibilities and solutions that may not have been looked at before. It allows us to think up abstract and backward scenarios that don’t follow traditional logic and dream up solutions never thought of before.

For example, a door company might consider multiple possibilities moving forward:

  • Doors that aren’t rectangular.
  • Reverse hinges.
  • Opening with facial recognition.
  • Complete uniformity of designs.

Some assumptions may seem simple or obvious but that doesn’t matter. Let the ideas flow freely, and the assumptions be turned on their head.

 In short, this guide serves as a basis for applying lateral thinking in business, which will turn your office into a more open, innovative, and conscious place.

 Getting out of your comfort zone and embracing new value propositions is the key to company survival in a business environment where the only constant is change. Make the shift towards lateral thinking in your company and the results will surprise you.

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