As a marketing agency, creative problem solving is at the heart of everything we do – from innovative marketing strategies to reach customers in new ways to developing inspiring concepts which drive audience engagement. Solving problems using an indirect approach is evident in books and legends going back to ancient times, but it was Edward de Bono who popularised this method as a way of problem solving. Following his death earlier this month, here we look at how de Bono’s lateral thinking has guided ThinkOTB over the last 30 years.
The father of lateral thinking
A Maltese psychologist, author, physician and philosopher, de Bono was first to use the term ‘lateral thinking’ in his book ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’ (1967). Simply put, lateral thinking is:“the solving of problems by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.”
This approach to problem solving challenges classic problem solving using yes or no logic which produces only two ‘either or’ outcomes to a situation. Lateral thinking opens up the idea that there could be endless outcomes if we approach the problem creatively in our minds. Edward de Bono illustrates lateral thinking with a story about a medieval merchant who faces imprisonment because he cannot repay a loan. The moneylender offers to write off the debt if he can marry the merchant’s daughter. They are reluctant so the moneylender proposes to settle the matter by putting a white and a black pebble in a bag. If the daughter draws out the black pebble she must marry him and the debt is cancelled. If she draws the white pebble, she goes free and the debt is cancelled.
The moneylender picks up two pebbles from the path and, as he slips them into the bag, the girl notices that they are both black! She quickly runs through her options in her head (1) refuse to take a pebble and send her father to jail, (2) expose the moneylender as a cheat and send her father to jail or (3) take a pebble and marry the moneylender. But she knows there are other possibilities too.
She takes a stone from the bag then fumbles and drops it on the pebbly path. “I don’t know what colour it was” she says, “but as the remaining pebble is black, the one I selected must be white”. Her clever thinking avoids marrying the moneylender and her father’s debt is cancelled.
Lateral thinking in action
Criticised by some psychologists and philologists for not testing the validity of the ideas which lateral thinking produces, at ThinkOTB we find that this is the beauty of lateral thinking.
When we start any marketing brief or run our innovation workshops we follow our unique 5-stage process. At stage 2 – Immersion, we often use a number of lateral thinking techniques including Six Thinking Hats and Random Stimulus. Six Thinking Hats enables our creative team and our innovation clients to think in six different ways about the challenge, while Random Stimulus creates unusual ideas by combining the challenge with a random noun or object, such as a linking ‘war’ to our challenge to create a new ice cream product. Suddenly we get ice cream that explodes in your mouth, has a sparkler on top, or a cone shaped like a hand grenade.
Had we listened to de Bono’s critics over the years and eliminated ideas which weren’t validated by yes/no logic, then ThinkOTB would not have helped so many global brands reach their customers with inspiring creative ideas or big companies innovate to solve business challenges, or won awards for our creative thinking.
Tina Catling, our Innovation Director, says: “Edward de Bono championed ‘thinking outside the box’ which became synonymous with the famous ‘nine dots puzzle’.
Your challenge is to link all nine dots using four straight lines or less, without lifting the pen.
“We were always inspired by Edward de Bono’s work – so much so that at one time we named our company ‘Outside the Box’. Rather than a list of owners’ names, we felt this name inspired a philosophy – our way of living and thinking – which we could deliver for our clients.”
To us at ThinkOTB (and Outside the Box!), Edward de Bono was an eminent thinker who gave credence to modern innovation and to creative thinking. We will always think of him as the father of lateral thinking.