Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step

By Edward de Bono
300 page paperback reissued edition (2015). Published by HARPER PERRENIAL
ISBN: 978-0-06-090325-1

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I recently visited my parents in the Philippines. The year was 2020, and this was just at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We were talking in their living room, my Dad pointed out a book by Edward de de Bono titled “Lateral Thinking”. He said that my daughter should read this. My eldest nephew had read this during his college years and seems to have helped him a lot.

I thought, “If it could help, why not?”. So I bought this book, intending to give it to my daughter. But first, I would read this myself.


My first thought when I got the book was “Another self-help” book. Like Dr. Norman Peale “The Power of Positive Thinking”.  The book looked a little dated. The printing font and the newsprint harks back to an era back in the 70s. I very much enjoyed “The Power of Positive Thinking” so I had an elevated expectation for this book.

I went through the first few pages. So far, so good. You get an explanation of what lateral thinking is. I did experience some confusion. Maybe because I have come across to the concept of lateral thinking many years before and not realized what it was.

According to Mr. de Bono, lateral thinking is closely related to creativity and somewhat opposite the rigidity of math. It does not accept rigid solutions and accepts that there may be unique solutions to a particular problem. That solutions depend on the availability of relevant information, and the sequence in which information arrives.

It is like relativity, in that the answer and process depend on the relation of the problem relative to the observer.

After 10 more pages, the gist becomes clearer. Lateral Thinking is being willing and able to consider other options to solve a problem that does not always involve logical thinking.

Lateral thinking is about generating views and ideas for the sake of doing so.  This helps us move from one phase to the next, creating movement and not stagnation. We can then apply parameters and criteria to these and decide on an acceptable solution. 

There is one aha moment while reading the book. Mr. de Bono talks about memories, that the mind creates patterns like how water flows across a landscape. In time, the landscape develops streams and rivers, the memories we have, and the pattern of our thinking. Lateral thinking helps us change this pattern.

Patterns can change in usefulness depending on the availability of information, and the sequence in which this information arrives.

As far as writing style, the author enjoys using the word “one”, as in “One must do this” or “One need only think about that”. It reminds me of an episode of “How I Met Your Mother”. In this episode, Ted and his students count the number of times Robin says “But um” and takes a shot of alcohol every time. Honestly, it is annoying, but um, it is probably the preferred writing style in the 70s.

The purpose of the book is to help you develop a lateral thinking attitude, through concepts and exercise. So you automatically use lateral thinking with vertical thinking. Lateral does not replace but supplements vertical thinking. No supplement, but another word, in conjunction? A few concepts are the use of suspended judgment, brainstorming, reversal and even a new word called “po”

The book includes plenty of assignments and tips on how a teacher can best train students to use lateral thinking. There are also suggestions on what material to collect for the class. Mind you, the book is from the 70s. There are no suggestions on searching the internet for those materials. Your major source of materials will be newspapers and magazines, radio, and television.

I am sure that the teacher will not have difficulty adopting and using this book in class. Does it work for the self-taught? I believe so. It lacks the feedback that a class provides. But if you read carefully, take the time to understand, and go through the exercises, then you can practice in applying lateral thinking. How you use it afterward is up to you.


Did I find the book useful? Yes, I did. Most self-help books are relevant way after the time the author wrote these. References and materials may slightly change, but most readers will make the connections. And I definitely recommend you read the book if you want to know what and how to use “po” in lateral thinking.

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