Why better lateral thinking


Why better lateral thinking

Why better lateral thinking skills can lead to increased profits


Arthur Arnot observed that miners in Australia could not simply rely on pickaxes and brawn to harvest coal. It was back breaking work and hardly efficient. By 1889 industrialisation had influenced so much in the ways of work, something had to change.

Along with his colleague the appropriately named William Brain, Arnot therefore developed an electric based device to drill away at the rock. Now, at this point our story could finish. Hurray for Arnot and Brain, they revolutionised the mining sector! Let’s grab a cup of tea and a biscuit!

But wait….that’s not how it ended.

6 years later in 1895, Wilhelm and Carl Fein invented the world’s first handheld electric drill in their native Germany. It was based upon many of the principles of Arnot and Brain’s device, albeit with considerable design changes for the domestic market. So that humble bit of kit, the bastion of DIY, sat in your shed, had its origins in the coal mines of Australia. Fein’s had absorbed the principles of an idea, thought differently about it, added considerable value and then created a world beating product.

This is the at the heart of lateral thinking. The ability to look at something from a different angle and come up with ideas and suggestions that add value. It is removing all the routine and traditional ways of approaching something. The Fein’s could see the potential application of Arnot and Brain’s work in the portable tool market.

The use of lateral thinking in summary adds value. It is a process of connecting the dots, finding patterns and suggesting the unsuggestable. If we approach a problem with the same way of… oh hang on there is a better quote….

‘’We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’’ – Albert Einstein

If we can harness a rich vein of this value this can add considerably to the success and profitability of a business. That is all very well, but how does it actually apply to an average business, I hear you mutter? Surely this is for the bean bag and fuss ball playrooms of the Silicon Valley tech giants? Well, no actually, it can be accessed at very low cost and applied directly to business objectives.

Creating a new product or process is vital part of growth and efficiency in a business. Organisations that fall behind in this journey lose market share, customer loyalty and ultimately can go under. From Little Chef to Saab, there are numerous examples where this resistance to the new has been very damaging.

So down to tactics, what steps can be implemented to boost lateral thinking skills?

Systematic use of curiosity and imagination

This stems from encouraging questioning, observation and listening. Too often we accept and we don’t query. We need to be sceptics, drilling in and examining. Not taking something as a given or read. Having a diverse workforce that encourages varied ideas underpins this approach and gets us away from group think. Imagination is often dismissed as daydreaming. But using imagery for work-based problem is a very successful way of considering solutions.

Identifying and evaluating unconventional ideas

Analysis means literally ‘loosening throughout’. We can take an idea, product, notion or suggestion take it apart, understand how it functions and put it back together again. Is it any surprise that Lego is so popular as a learning tool? In order to gain the value, we need to be able to critical assess what we see, determine the fact from the fiction and start to explore concepts and ideas. There is no such thing as a bad idea, especially if part of it leads to the solution. We can’t be frightened to make mistakes, otherwise much of the value will remain hidden. We are not looking for perfection, we are looking for base information to build on.

Embracing uncertainty to support change

Playing with concepts and trying things out has an uncertain outcome. But from that uncertainty we can build resilience to change. How are we expected to be more comfortable with change if we are not encouraged and supported to be better at handling it? Often change is hindered by engrained thinking, ‘it has always been done like this.’ If we are encouraged to think differently about things through lateral thinking skills we are more likely to challenge this resistance to change.

Using creativity as a source of innovation

Creativity has an enormous influence on innovation. Which, we will define as ‘a better way of doing things’ for ease of convenience. But creativity is often misunderstood. Firstly there is no such thing as ‘creative’ and ‘uncreative’ people. Take for example booking a holiday. You are on-line or sitting in a travel agency. What sells the holiday? The style of your computer? The look of the travel agents office? Or are you picturing yourself sitting on the beach, resting with a cocktail, as the sun goes down? This is being creative. Being creative is being human.

Secondly there is a perception that it is to be creative, for creative sake. It is not. It is to be creative because it accesses actions like visualisation, expression and concentration in an unbiased and experimental format. And surprise, surprise this content helps you come up with new ways of approaching things, ideal to solve business problems. We don’t want people to become the new Claude Monet or Charles Dickens, we want them to try, use initiative and learn about themselves.

Finally, the belief that creativity is only good for creative activities in a business. E.g., graphic design or presentations. This is false. If you are better at visualising, you will be better at imagining a solution for a customer that better meets their needs in a tender document. If you are better at approaching something that you don’t have a solution for you are more resilient in operations when a disaster takes place and everyone needs to think on their feet.

Lateral thinking is a useful tool to support areas like change and innovation. The skills observed can make the outcome of many business objectives far more effective thus boasting the results on the bottom line.

John Henderson – Co-founder and Director

Sara Penrose Ltd

Developing people with the skills needed to optimise your business performance


© Sara Penrose Ltd 2022 

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