In today’s competitive market companies not only need skilled people but needs employees who have lateral thinking and are creative so that they can provide creative solutions. Below article will provide you a brief overview of lateral thinking and creativity as it is an important skills which is needed by MBA students to come up with ansolution of a difficult situation.
What is Lateral Thinking?
Think of a railway track; it consists of two parallel lines running alongside each other separated by a narrow gap. A train has to run along that track; if it goes on either side it will derail.
Our thoughts or the way we react to events can be likened to that railway track. They run along defined boundaries and the reason for that is the conditioning that we receive early in our lives and our experiences.
Most of us go through our lives with more or less similar experiences and incidents. About 90% of us can relate to one other because our lives follow a similar pattern allowing for some individual quirks and differences. These patterns are established very early in life and most of us are unable to break out of it or do not want to break out of it because we find comfort in things that are familiar. To be honest, there is also no particular need for us to move out of that pattern that we have set up for ourselves.
The ‘railway track’ mode of thinking also arises from these circumstances. The predictability of our experiences circumscribes our thoughts and over a period of time, we are incapable of moving out of that parallel track. If we need to think differently, we need to derail our minds so that it jumps out of the track. And that is the crux of lateral thinking or what has come to be known today as ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.
The Dynamics of Lateral Thinking
When we speak of people being creative or creatively inclined, we are talking about people who do not think along conventional lines because they have jumped off the railway tracks. By some quirk of fate, they perceive things differently from what the majority of the population do. You must understand that there is nothing abnormal about these people – it is nothing more unusual than being left-handed among a largely right-handed world.
What does lateral thinking actually involve? Is it merely being able to think differently and perceive your world differently? Well, that is part of it. Those are just the ingredients, which go into lateral thinking. Lateral thinkers have their brains wired differently from most of us. This enables them to not only have a different world-view, but also have a different perspective on events.
The main objective of lateral thinking or what in corporate circles is called ‘value proposition’ is how it affects the way we solve problems. Are we getting results out of that lateral thinking? Is it making us more efficient at solving problems?
Let me give you a very simple example. Most of us take the same route while going to college, university or work. You may be walking or taking a cab to the nearest bus or railway station and then taking the train to your destination. Or, you may be driving/be driven to your college or workplace. Or if you are very lucky, you may just have to walk around the corner to reach your journey’s end.
Whatever the mode, the fact is that we invariably follow the same route. That is because we like safe, predictable things, we like routine and it is also less trouble.
How many of us actually try to find out different routes to go to our institute or place of work? How many of us experiment with different modes of transport to see if we arrive faster or even slower or have a more stress-free journey? How many of us think of varying our routine even slightly just in order to get a different experience?
The answers to these questions will give a glimpse into the way lateral thinking works. As a lateral thinker, your mind will follow different routes to solve a problem compared to a conventional mind.
Your mind will view the problem in a unique way; in all probability, your mind may not even see it as a problem.
Here, I want you to understand that all lateral thinkers are not necessarily problem solvers or are creative, in the sense that we know it. Let me iterate here that it is just a different perception of things.
It is quite likely that a lateral thinker might further complicate an existing situation. But yes, with lateral thinking you can definitely arrive at uncommon conclusions and can learn to tackle problems in other ways than you would normally.
But then do we want to be lateral thinkers? Instead of answering that question, let me ask you something else – do you want to be left handed?
Can we Train our Minds to Think Laterally?
Well, if we can learn to play tennis and swim tolerably well, I guess we can also learn to think laterally. There are certain skills of an exceptional nature that you might not be able to acquire – if you are tone deaf or do not have a good voice then it is quite likely that you will never be a singer or be able to appreciate music or learn the piano. These are some skills, which require inborn talent.
For the rest, certainly you can acquire mastery with practise and training.
Edward de Bono, who pioneered the concept of lateral thinking said in another book, ‘Tactics’ – “The key point about lateral thinking is that concepts, perceptions and structures evolve over time and are a summary of history rather than a blueprint for the future. In the mind, this is due to the self-organising nature of the brain, which is designed as a pattern-making recognition system. So we may have to cut across and break out of patterns before putting things together in a new way. Provocation is an essential part of lateral thinking and there are various specific techniques such as the random word technique.”
To paraphrase what Bono says, we have to create a spark in our brains that will provoke our thought processes to get off the beaten track. We have all heard of brainstorming; brainstorming is a way of provoking our brains to come up with novel and unique ideas. The more bizarre, the better because then you have more and varied ideas to choose from.
We have to learn to brainstorm at every opportunity. You should not let logic or reason colour your thoughts during this process, because you have to break out of the pattern you have set for yourself.
The brain has to be trained to make that shift from the usual to the unusual.
If you are consistent, you will find that thinking up stuff ‘outside the box’ becomes a habit. Keep in mind though that the ideas you have generated should lead to practical use. Some creative people are known to be impractical and some are also known to be severely straitjacketed in their ideas. You don’t want that. But then again while coming up with ideas do not junk the impractical ones. Maybe they will lead you somewhere too.
As a lateral thinker you have to let your mind roam freely; you should be able to astonish yourself with your thoughts. Push and stretch at the limits of your metal boundaries. That railway track I told you about in the beginning should have a width than can be widened at will.
Contributed by Disha Parekh Mohanty