Real Life Lateral Thinking Problems
You are probably most familiar with lateral thinking puzzles
or riddles. They lead you to make certain assumptions, and to
solve them you have to look at those assumptions you're making
and try to get beyond them. A short example of this type follows.
The book store owner used one book to destroy thousands of
others - all in one day. How did he do this? A lateral thinking
puzzle like this relies on setting your thoughts in a certain
direction. In this case, the idea of a "book store owner"
encourages you assume that a book one reads was used to destroy
the others. Drop that assumption and you might find the solution
- the man used a book of matches to burn all the other books.
Puzzles of this type are good mental exercise, and fun, but
fortunately not all lateral thinking problems are word play or
simple riddles. In fact, many are designed to require or encourage
creative thinking in ways more applicable to actual situations.
This type often has many solutions which are valid.
Some may not like the inconclusive nature of this kind of
puzzle or problem. They want one definitive solution, so they
know they're "right" once they have an answer. However,
these more open-ended lateral thinking problems are just as good
for exercising one's creativity, and the thinking skills developed
from working on them may be more applicable to everyday life,
where there is rarely one definitive solution to a problem.
Situational Thinking Problems
This type usually involves a scenario or situation which is
explained, along with a goal. Suppose, for example, you need
to get a basketball out of a 12-foot deep pit. That's the goal.
The situation? The pit has smooth cement for the floor and walls,
and it is square, about four feet per side. You're alone and
have only what you are wearing, including whatever is in your
pockets at the moment. How can you get the basketball out using
only what has been described?
Like any good lateral thinking problem this requires you to
think "laterally," which means coming at the problem
from other angles, as opposed to the more traditional linear
or logical way. You have to use what you have, but in ways that
these things are not normally used.
You might, for example, make a "basket" out of your
t-shirt, tying your shoelaces to it around the edges. Unravel
the threads from your socks and you can make a string to lower
the "basket." Then move the basketball onto it and
then pull it up to you. A shoe hung on the end of a string made
of strips of clothing might work to "kick" the ball
into place, rolling it onto your shirt.
You might also use a piece of paper from your pocket. Chew
it up, drop it onto the ball using shoe laces or clothing, and
when it dries it would perhaps "glue" the line to the
ball, allowing it to be lifted. You might "chimney"
your body up and down the pit to get the ball (if you are tall
enough), as climbers do between rock walls. Certainly there are
other possibilities too.
Of course, life itself presents us with many lateral thinking
problems, if we approach situations creatively. A judge in a
Michigan child custody case could have followed the traditional
thinking about how much time the children would spend at each
parent's place, but he ruled that the children would stay right
where they were in the home they knew. The parents would each
get their own place and move in with the kids on alternating
weeks. Now that's a good example of applying lateral thinking
to real life problems.
Note: See the page Lateral
Thinking Examples for a look at some creative solutions to
a real scenario.