What Is Lateral Thinking?
The term was invented by Edward DeBono in 1967. Somewhere
along the way "lateral thinking" officially became
a part of the English language (it is in the Oxford English Dictionary
and most others now). DeBono, on his web site, says there are
several ways to define it.
Essentially, lateral thinking is a way of attacking problems
from other angles, as opposed to the more traditional linear
and logical ways. Debono uses the example of chess, where logic
normally suffices, if the pieces are a given. Lateral
thinking acknowledges that in real life we mostly just assume
the pieces are given, when really we need to change those pieces
or look beyond them for the most useful solutions.
Lateral Thinking Puzzles
No more definitions. Here are a few lateral thinking puzzles
instead. These will give you a good feel for what the term means,
and let you practice this "out of the box" thinking.
John is on a raft, adrift in the ocean with several other
survivors of a shipwreck. The others are too weak, so he or Mike
will swim to a nearby island to look for help. It is almost certainly
suicidal, due to the circling sharks, but they have little else
to hope for. Mike takes the lose change from his pocket and puts
two pennies in a hat. He tells John that one is a 2005 penny,
and the other 1975. If John picks the newer penny he can stay
on the rat, and Mike will risk his life. If John picks the older
penny, he must go. John has seen that both pennies were actually
dated 1975, but he doesn't want to say anything, because Mike
is a big guy. How does he win, and get Mike to go, without exposing
him as a fraud in front of the others?
A man came to visit at a convent while the superior mother
was out of town. He left before she returned, and was careful
to leave nothing behind. The nuns said nothing about his visit,
so how did the superior mother figure out that a man had been
A politician wrote a long speech. How did it help his career
even before he gave the speech?
The Light Switches
There are three switches outside a closed room. There are
three lamps inside the room. You can flip the switches as much
as you want while the door is closed, but then you must enter
just once and determine which switch is connected to which lamp.
How can you do it?
The Coin: John reaches into the hat and takes out either
penny. He lets it slip out of his hand and fall into the ocean.
Apologizing, he suggests that if the remaining penny in the hat
is the 1975 one, he must have drawn the 2005 penny. Mike cannot
argue with the logic unless he wants to admit to lying. Since
the others won't tolerate a liar anyhow, he makes the swim.
The Convent: Because a toilet seat was up.
The Speech: True Story solution: In 1912, President
Teddy Roosevelt was shot in the chest. The folded-up manuscript
of his speech was in his pocket, and slowed the bullet, saving
his life, and so helping his career.
The Light Switches: Switch the first one on for a minute,
then turn it off and turn the second on. Enter the room and feel
the two bulbs that are off. The warm one was turned on by the
first switch, the light that is on is connected to the second,
and the other to the third.