Quick, what does a taco and a tea shop have in common? If your first reaction is not a lot, you’re right. And that’s the beauty of it. In 1967, Edward de Bono, prominent physician, psychologist, philosopher and author coined the term ‘Lateral Thinking’. Lateral Thinking involves approaching problem-solving by following an indirect path. Generally, when it comes to thinking up new ways of doing things we tend to go down the same cognitive paths we’re used to. It’s human nature to try and generate ideas by exploring what we already know, following step-by-step logic—by its very nature, this process is limiting and largely the reason why we see the same tired solutions repeated. Conversely, by applying lateral thinking and following an indirect path there's a switch from a familiar pattern to a new, unexpected one and solutions that previously were not obvious, reveal themselves.
There are a few ways to initiate and apply lateral thinking in your projects, but the one I tend to rely on the most is generating a random word and then attempting to associate that word with the area I’m thinking about. The taco and the tea shop mentioned at the start of this post is a great real-life example. Tasked with helping a local tea shop generate some new product ideas, I turned to the dictionary to generate some random words. ‘Taco’ was among the words generated and in the ensuing discussions relating tacos back to tea shops we found ‘Agua de Jamaica’, a delicious hibiscus-based iced tea beverage popular in Mexico. Agua de Jamaica was added to the menu along with some beautiful hibiscus-themed posters—and an instant summer hit was born.
So the next time you’re running into a brick wall trying to generate some new and creative ideas, try some lateral thinking and come at the problem sideways, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at where the path will take you.