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Lateral Thinking

Edward DeBono, PhD, has devoted his life to the study of the thinking process. His term lateral thinking describes a process that attempts to counteract the limitations and errors of logical thinking, but not to replace it. Lateral thinking is a way of rearranging available information to form a new and better pattern. Others have called it creative thinking or, more recently, right-brain thinking. Here are some examples:

Random input. DeBono says, A random input from outside can serve to disrupt the old pattern and allow it to reform in a new way." For instance, you could take your question to an antique store, a mall, or an art museum, or try opening a dictionary, Bible, or almanac at random, and look for connections. Intrigued? Try it.

Quotas. We often limit ourselves by wrongly imagining that there is only one right answer. To use quotas means to challenge yourself to come up with a minimal number of alternatives, giving yourself the pressure of a limited deadline; for example, ten minutes of concentrated time.

Rotation of attention. The man who tries every new diet fad in his attempt to lose weight is placing all of his attention on the one connection of food and flab. In any given situation, one element will naturally monopolize our energy unless we consciously attend to the less dramatic, or subsidiary ones (our dieter, for example, might pay attention to his boredom, hours of netsurfing, unhappy relationship, and so on). Make each factor in the problem or question the focus of attention and learn as much as you can by examining it as if it were the only one.

Reversals. Sometimes it helps to turn a situation completely upside down in order to see it from a different point of view. Often we are not sure of what we want, but we are very clear about what we don't want. ("I don't want to have to do homework every night of the week," "I don't want the full responsibility for the cars," "I don't want to swallow pills to keep up on my vitamins and minerals," and so on.) To determine what we want our job to be, we might do better by listing the things we don't want it to be. To determine what wellness is, we may learn a lot by asking ourselves what we are sure it is not.

Cross-Fertilization. This step involves getting input from a variety of other sources, books, and people. Sometimes it is most helpful to talk to someone who holds an opinion opposite to the one you support. Ideas generate ideas. The more input you have, the more discriminating you can become in your choices.

Imagination is more important than data collecting, since there is shortage of former, and a surfeit of the latter. Indeed, information by itself will rarely give a good idea. It is the imaginative skill applied to looking at data that makes the big difference. —Nicholas Berry, writing about Edward DeBono's work

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