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Lateral Thinking – An Awesome Power That Each of Us Has!
Lateral thinking logic. If successful, it results in an elegant solution to a seemingly impossible problem. A perfectly sensible answer will rarely be found using traditional step-by-step logic or didactic thinking. All of us have used our talents from time to time to magically apply lateral thinking to a problem or personal puzzle. Lateral thinking, like any skill, can be greatly improved with a little practice and understanding.
Here are three examples of lateral thinking in action. Let’s see how?
There is the story of a man in prison who knew full well that his mail was being thoroughly screened by the authorities. He and his wife corresponded regularly. In one of his letters to her, he wrote that he was about to start planting a garden but could not operate a rotor-tiller. He said the soil was hard and it was very difficult to turn the soil with just a spade without a machine.
In response, the husband wrote, “Good God woman, don’t plant anything in the garden, that’s where I hid the money and the gun!”
Within a week the prisoner received another letter from his wife that a dozen police officers descended on the house and dug up the garden. “I don’t know what they were looking for, but they certainly didn’t find anything. However, he asked, “What were they looking for?”
Can you see the ingenious solution that the jailed husband implemented to help his wife?
The husband wrote back; “False alarm, nothing to worry about. Oh and by the way, I believe the garden should be ready for planting!”
This is an example of lateral thinking!
Here’s another one.
A young peasant and a king’s daughter were in love and naturally the young man wanted to marry her. The king did not like the idea of his daughter marrying a peasant, but he wanted to appear fair to his subjects. The king announced to his court that he would place two pieces of paper in a hat, one reading exile and the other marriage, and the young peasant would draw a piece of paper and be bound by its message.
Later that day, the farmer hears the king say that both pieces of paper will be banished, thus ensuring that poor Popper will be banished forever. The farmer remained silent and attended the king’s court as arranged where a large crowd had gathered for the ceremony. The farmer then reached into the hat and drew a piece of paper. Then he did something that assured him the hand of the king’s daughter. What did he do?
Solving this perplexing problem requires lateral thinking. That is non-linear thinking.
In lateral thinking the solution is often so elegant, so perfect it defies further statement. So what could this farmer possibly do that would qualify as such a response?
Linear thinking may suggest;
• The farmer takes the girl’s hand and runs for her.
• Or perhaps the peasant could tell the whole court that he had heard the king say that both pieces of paper would be banished.
• Perhaps she could plead with the king’s daughter to expose her father as an impostor.
• He may even try to choose both pieces of paper and suggest that the king must have made a mistake.
Each of these solutions comes with a whole host of accompanying problems, and certainly none of them would qualify as our “elegant and genius” description of lateral thinking.
Here are a few hints to help you out.
Hint one – The young peasant knew that the king had to appear fairly before his subjects and he did not dare to expose him.
Hint two – The peasant was clever enough to manipulate the paper he chose, get his wish and still protect the king’s integrity.
Can you guess what the farmer is?
The farmer picked up a piece of paper and tore it. Then he asked the king to show him the other paper, said the exile. The king, not wanting to appear fraudulent in front of his subjects, was forced to ensure that the paper the farmer chose must say marriage.
The solution is really elegant don’t you think? The peasant and the king’s daughter fulfill their wishes, while the peasant is careful to protect the king’s integrity in front of his subjects. Indeed, the king would probably begin to see his new son-in-law in a whole new light, and perhaps as one who was worthy of his daughter’s hand.
Here’s another example of lateral thinking!
This example hits close to home (at least for me) because it’s a true story that happened to a close friend.
Greg was a self-employed recruiter (read headhunter) for a Fortune 500 company. One day while driving on an LA freeway he fell into deep thought as he took on a particularly challenging problem. He’s exhausted his Rolodex and tapped every contact he knows, but he can’t seem to get any good leads on the ‘man’ he needs to find.
About a week ago one of his best customers, a large pharmaceutical firm, asked him to look for a person with the following characteristics – male, African American, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, university educated with at least a BA in science, and ideally, loaded with personality that Nobody. As Greg was spinning the problem for the hundredth time, he was quickly brought back to reality when he realized his car was sputtering and out of gas.
He pulled over to the side of the road and was about to call roadside service when a fellow motorist pulled over and offered to help. The man was African American who appeared to be about 30 years old. As it turns out, Greg accepts a ride to the nearest service station. During the journey the young man mentioned that he works in the area and was returning to office from his lunch break. When they reached the service station, Greg got out and thanked the Good Samaritan for his trouble.
The young man drove away when Greg realized he forgot to ask her name or where she worked. Then hit him. He was suddenly struck with that amazing “AHA” of lateral thinking and the brilliantly simple solution to his problem.
Later that day Greg pulls into the parking lot of a competing corporation he is trying to recruit for.
Greg went to meet the receptionist and explained that he had just been very kindly assisted by a passing motorist. “The good Samaritan told me his name and for the life of me I can’t remember it. The only thing I remember is where he worked. I really want to give him a small gift as a token of thanks, but I just don’t remember his name. “
Of course the receptionist was more than happy to help but she admitted that they employed over a thousand people and she probably wouldn’t know who this person was. Well Greg answered; “I believe he was African-American, between 25 and 35, really friendly and outgoing and he spoke like someone who was very well educated.”
The secretary was happy to say that he knew many people who would fit this description. “Let me think,” she said, “was George like that?” she asked. “No”, Greg replied, making a mental note of the name, “I don’t think it was him.” “So how are you Jason?” “No, it doesn’t even ring,” Greg said, making another mental note of the name. He thought for a moment more and then said it had to be either Bill So-and-so or Randy So-and-so!” Well Greg said he thought it was probably Randy. the way
Within a week Greg had a telephone interview with the four names the receptionist gave him and from them he hired his man.
That’s lateral thinking!
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