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What Is Lateral Thinking?

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  • Written By: Esther Ejim
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2014
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The concept of lateral thinking is derived from the ability to think about situations or to approach problems and issues from an angle that is quite unusual or different from the expected. That is to say that lateral thinking depends to a large extent on the ability of the individual to figuratively step back from a problem and to approach it from a vantage point that is contrary to what would be the norm for that particular situation. There is no limit to the application of lateral thinking, and it can be applied to many situations that require the use of cognitive skills.

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An example of the application of lateral thinking can be seen in the case of a job applicant who is trying to get a job in a fortune 500 company. Knowing that a lot of equally or even more qualified applicants will apply for the same position, a person might decide that the best way to dramatically increase his or her chances of getting hired would be to think outside of any preconceived notions regarding the job application process, while still managing to stay within the confines of what is acceptable. The exact manner for achieving lateral thinking in this situation would be dependent on the cognitive abilities of the individual and his or her willingness to merge such cognitive prowess with a lot of creativity. In this case, it might involve some form of positive differentiation from the other applicants through some action that will cause such an applicant to be noticed above others in a favorable way.

Another situation where lateral thinking could be applied would be in the case of an impending crisis where there seems to be no solution in sight. This view that there is no solution to the problem, which may be held by the vast majority of participants and observers, can be attributed to the fact that they have been conditioned to think in a straight line of thought, meaning that when they reach a dead end, the matter would end there. For a lateral thinker, the problem would be approached from every conceivable angle other than the obvious one, including from unexpected points of reasoning that may even seem totally foreign to those who have become conditioned to the straight way of thinking.

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