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 different 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. Some of his recent work has focused on schools (e.g., DeBono, 1991).
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 merchant'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.
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.
DeBono, E. (1991). Teaching Thinking. London: Penquin Books.