Lateral Thinking (DeBono)



Edward de Bono has written extensively about the process of lateral thinking -- the generation of novel solutions to problems. The point of lateral thinking is that many problems require a different perspective to solve successfully. De Bono identifies four critical factors associated with lateral thinking: (1) recognize dominant ideas that polarize perception of a problem, (2) searching for differ ways of looking at things, (3) relaxation of rigid control of thinking, and (4) use of chance to encourage other ideas. This last factor has to do with the fact that lateral thinking involves low-probability ideas which are unlikely to occur in the normal course of events.


Although De Bono does not acknowledge any theoretical antecedents for lateral thinking, it seems closely related to the Gestalt theory of Wertheimer . His work is also highly relevant to the concept of creativity Visit the De Bono web site for up-to-date information on his work.



Lateral thinking applies to human problem-solving. DeBono (1971a) discusses the application of lateral thinking to management development and DeBono (1971b) provides an interesting study of lateral thinking in children.



The following anecdote is provided by DeBono (1967). A merchant who owes money to a money lender agrees to settle the debt based upon the choice of two stones (one black, one white) from a money bag. If his daughter chooses the white stone, the debt is canceled; if she picks the black stone, the moneylender gets the mechant's daughter. However, the moneylender "fixes" the outcome by putting two black stones in the bag. The daughter sees this and when she picks a stone out of the bag, immediately drops it onto the path full of other stones. She then points out that the stone she picked must have been the opposite color of the one remaining in the bag. Unwilling to be unveiled as dishonest, the moneylender must agree and cancel the debt. The daughter has solved an intractable problem through the use of lateral thinking.




1. To get a different perspective on a problem, try breaking the elements up and recombining them in a different way (perhaps randomly).




DeBono, E. (1967). New Think: The Use of Lateral Thinking in the Generation of New Ideas. New York: Basic Books.

DeBono, E. (1971a). Lateral Thinking for Management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

DeBono, E. (1971b). The Dog Exercising Machine. London: Penquin Books.


Examples from Edgar DEBONO´s Web Page


To cut onions in pieces without crying, I wear the same plastic glasses as olimpic swimmers.
©Lucas Gonzales & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

When a shampoo bottle is nearly empty, I remove the cap and add water to use the final amount smeared over the inside of the bottle. It leaves no waste and a clean bottle for recycling.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I work as a programmer. When I have no floppy disks to back up may day's work at a client site, I simply email that work to myself and pick it up at home.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I use my hot water down the side of my barbecue gas bottle to tell how full it is. The water evaporates above the gas level, and condenses below it. That way I don't prematurely pay for a full bottle.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I always present the heaviest items to the supermarket checkout operator first. That way when the bags are packed the lighter items don't get squashed by the heavy ones.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

When having a beer at a bar or pub, you may find that the bottom of the glass keeps sticking to the napkin when you raise the glass to take a drink. Shake some salt on the napkin, and the problem, goes away. You'll also likely attract the attention of those around you, and can thus get a conversation going.
©Bernie Perry & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

When I travel I take my electrical socket adapter with me. It screws into a light bulb socket and transforms the socket into an outlet. Laptop computer battery charger's best friend!
©Karen Spitzer & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I plant flower seeds in the soil next to gravesites instead of leaving cut or plastic flowers.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

©Bronwyn Bain & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

There is no point in worrying about the rain forests of the world if your own pot-plants are dying.
©Bronwyn Bain & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I use old 5+1/4 inch floppy sleeves to house my computing CD's which come in magazines without hard cases. The CD's will also readily fit in the old 5+1/4 inch floppy boxes.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

Cooking Idea:
Keep ginger root in a plastic bag in the freezer and when you need a piece for cooking Chinese or Indian or whatever dishes you use it for then grate off a small amount. That way it disperses through the food and the ginger lasts and lasts.
©Margaret Adams & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

The Six Thinking Hats can certainly benefit our mood and thoughts in very powerful ways - but we do have to remember to use them. Easier said than done!
Some simple ideas to help ourselves to remember:-
1. With stickers or paint, add the Six Hats to a clock face. (Just adding the blue hat in the centre would suffice.) Now every time you see any clock or watch it can act as a trigger.
2. Wear a blue ring, and try and develop the habit of looking at it before you respond to a question or when someone is criticising you. If you remember to wear the blue hat your response is likely to be more considered.
3. Many people find that actually looking at the appropriate colour helps them stay "on-hat", rather than drifting off. Always carry six coloured tiddly winks!
4. Make a wrist band or bracelet with six coloured beads. If you wear a copper bracelet add the colours with paints.
5. Create a Six Hats culture at home by placing stickers and posters all over the house.
©Paul Scott & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

A friend, who works from home, could not hear his front door bell when in his office at the back of the house. It was becoming a big problem.
Having noticed the use that he and his wife made of a baby alarm device, I suggested that he use it to amplify the sound of the door bell."That's brilliant", he said.
©Paul Scott & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

To avoid forgetting to take things with me when I go out of the house, I throw them next to the front door.
When it comes time to leave, I invariably stumble over them on my way out and am therefore reminded of them.
©Phil Bachmann & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

Problem: Airline comfort...
Problem:1: Airline food carts glog the aisles. Answer:
Suspend food carts from rails on ceiling. Now people can duck under to get past.(I thought that structurally this could be a problem of ceiling loads; until I saw heavy TV sets suspended).
Problem:2: Peoples carry on luggage doesn't fit well!
Answer: reward use of standard size that fits neatly and precisely. Or offer discount for no luggage carried on. Or offer discount if luggage fits in special container that does slide directly into storage bins. Then each person gets equal luggage space. (Also better in emergency evac' as no loose luggage).
©Philip Hunt & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I have a grocery check list that is sequenced the same as the flow through the store. As items are required, a simple check indicates the need. Then as I go through the store, finding items and checking off the list is straight forward.
The list is on my wordprocessor so I just print new ones on scrap. The store should provide such list blanks.. but I think they like you to get lost and confused, perhaps you will then buy more!
©James Handyside & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

Winters are C O L D here with snow galore! No garage for my car and the locks often freeze up. I cover each of the door locks with a piece of duct tape during the winter. When the wind blows the snow and sleet around, my locks are protected and I'm able to slide my key right in. (after lifting the
tape up a bit;>
©Karen Spitzer & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

What about a multi-lingual edwdebono-Website ?
©Reinhard Bochem & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997

I purchase petrol at night when the tempature is lower. As petrol is sold by volume, the product is denser when cooler. Petrol burns by mass, so I get better economy this way.
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997