Lateral thinking is concerned with the generation of new ideas. There is a curious notion that new ideas have to do with technical invention. This is a very minor aspect of the matter. New ideas are the stuff of change and progress in every field from science to art, from politics to personal happiness.
Lateral thinking is also concerned with breaking out of the concept prisons of old ideas. This leads to changes in attitude and approach; to looking in a different way at things which have always been looked at in the same way. Liberation from old ideas and the stimulation of new ones are twin aspects of lateral thinking.
Lateral thinking enhances the effectiveness of vertical thinking. Vertical thinking develops the ideas generated by lateral thinking. You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper. Vertical thinking is used to dig the same hole deeper. Lateral thinking is used to dig a hole in a different place.
The need for lateral thinking arises from the limitations of the behaviour of mind as a self-maximizing memory system.
- Vertical thinking is selective, lateral thinking is generative.
- Vertical thinking moves only if there is a direction in which to move, lateral thinking moves in order to generate a direction.
- Vertical thinking is analytical, lateral thinking is provocative
You have probably heard the phrase; 'problems are opportunities'. The truth in this statement is not much help when you can't find a way to resolve something.
Here are specific techniques that help:
1. Reverse the Question
Suppose you can't think of a good reason to get back in front of a prospect who is about to make a decision. Ask yourself "What reasons could I give to avoid speaking with them if they called me?" All kinds of excuses will occur to you. Pursue them and see where they lead. Amongst your ideas will be just the reason for talking to them you are looking for.
Call to mind the most successful sales person, business leader or entrepreneur you know. Imagine yourself in their presence, asking their advice. What would they suggest? If you don't know any extraordinary sales people, imagine one. It works just as well.
Write your sales problem at the top of a piece of paper. Underneath write every possible solution that occurs to you.
Make sure you include any silly or impractical thoughts. Don't stop to consider them, just keep going until you have at least twenty-five. Don't worry if none of them make sense.
Put your list to one side until the following day. Now repeat the process. If you need to, refer to yesterday’s list for inspiration.
It seldom takes more than a day or two before you discover just the idea you need.
4. Brainstorm in a Group
Even working with one other person can rapidly accelerate the process. Brainstorming seems to work best when between five to eight people work together.
First write your sales problem or challenge at the top of a piece of a flip chart.
Have one of your number write down everyone’s contributions. Pick someone who can write quickly, so that they don't interrupt the process in trying to keep up.
Remember to lay down the ground rule and enforce it rigorously – no criticism of any ideas. All suggestions are acceptable.
If you have five or more people try for 100 ideas. For some strange unfathomable reason, the best idea is usually about the seventieth.
5. Mind Map
Start with a blank sheet of paper. Draw an image that represents your topic or challenge in the centre. If you can't think of a good picture, write it and put a circle around it.
Identify the main possibilities and draw branches for each theme. Write identifying phrases or descriptions along the branches. Use sub branches to identify subordinate or related thoughts.
Draw pictures to represent your thoughts. This way you stimulate your visual thinking, which helps you to come up with more ideas. It doesn't matter if your pictures have artistic merit. They don't have to make sense to anyone but you.
Use different colours to further stimulate your visual creativity. The act of drawing a mind map prompts additional thoughts and alternatives.
Repeating the exercise, just to tidy up your map, will lead you to think of still more ideas.
Select a Word at Random from a Dictionary
Think, ‘how does this word apply to my topic or challenge’. Ask yourself, ‘what solutions does this word lead to?’
Edward De Bono, the famous scientist who has spent a lifetime studying how people think, invented this method and used it to help Sony design innovative televisions. Using his dictionary association method, he selected a word at random and practised his lateral thinking discipline using the word as a starting point.
Apparently it was this approach that led to the picture in picture feature that Sony used to differentiate their television sets. The randomly selected word was ‘cheese’ which led to thinking about cheese with holes in it and from there it is a simple lateral hop to imagine pictures inside pictures.
Try these problem solving methods and see which are the most effective for you. "No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking" wrote Voltaire.