The Business Benefits of Lateral Thinking

If I hear “think outside the box” one more time, I’m going to beat my head with a box. With that said, you can give yourself tremendous advantages if you employ lateral thinking. A common business buzzword for lateral thinking is thinking outside the… you know the rest.

Lateral thinking is “the solution of problems through an indirect and creative approach.” At it’s most basic level, lateral thinking is like looking at something at a different angle. With the screen up, your laptop proudly displays this web page. If you close your laptop, you can appreciate it’s slim design. Look even closer and you can see the vent, screws, and various ports.

Here’s an example of how it helps with problem solving:

Say you’re building a new house. Someone just asked you to make the living room brighter. What do you do?

A common answer is to add more windows. Or expand the size of the current windows. That’s nice and straight-forward thinking.

However, if you were to employ some lateral thinking, and no doubt some of you already have, you might come up with answers such as:

  • Paint the rooms white.
  • Put in a sky light.
  • Put mirrors in the room.
  • Add lots of recessed lighting in the ceiling.
  • Change the placement of the room so it faces the direction with the most sunlight.
  • Set the room on fire (that’ll sure make it bright, and hot!)

If you sat down and really thought about it, I’m sure you could add more to that list. The primary mental activity is looking at the question in a different way, a different angle. Reframing it, so to speak. Instead of viewing it from a carpenter’s perspective, you could answer it from an electrician’s perspective. Or a firefighter’s perspective. Or a young child’s perspective. All of these could give you distinctly different answers. That’s lateral thinking.

How can this help your business? It can help with brainstorming business ideas, whether they be new features, new products, new services, or enhancements on current offerings. It can help with your marketing campaign, especially in social media and viral marketing, where clever and creative hooks can expand your reach exponentially.

It can help with your operations too. Take a look at your current distribution system. Or product development process. Or accounting system. Look at it from someone else’s perspective. Are there ways to improve those processes? If you tore down all preconceptions and assumptions, are there new alternatives you hadn’t considered before?

So don’t forgot to think outside… I mean, think laterally. Employ lateral thinking. It will expand not only your business, but your mind.

Photo by: Dan Morelle

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.