Business leaders have been doing X for decades, maybe centuries, and they’ve always found success. Then, suddenly, some strange startup starts doing Y. Everyone expects that startup to fail miserably, to crash and burn, to be an example of what not to do. Instead, that startup disrupts the industry, wins the hearts and cash of millions of consumers, and becomes a global source of inspiration and change. Then, all business leaders start doing Y.
It is easy to copy established methods of achieving success, and it is difficult to generate new methods and means of achieving your business goals. However, doing what everyone else is doing isn’t necessarily the best option for all businesses. By changing how you think, you might be able to catapult your business forward, earning acclaim and profits like you never imagined. That’s why you need lateral thinking.
What Is Lateral Thinking?
Lateral thinking is a strategy for solving problems differently than people have solved those problems in the past. Consider this riddle:
A man lives on the 10th floor of an apartment building. Every morning, he takes the elevator to the ground floor to go to work, and every evening, he takes the elevator to the 6th floor, gets out, and walks up four flights of stairs to his apartment. When it is raining and when there is another passenger in the elevator, the man takes the elevator all the way to the 10th floor. Why?
Riddles like this one require you to deviate from traditional patterns of thought to generate a satisfying solution. Typically, there is more than one answer that fits the situation, and all require you to creatively fill in missing information. For the above riddle, the accepted answer is that the man is a dwarf who cannot reach the upper-level buttons in the elevator — unless he can ask someone to help him or press them with his umbrella. However, you might argue that the man is overweight and is practicing moderate exercise, except when he is embarrassed by others’ company or cold and wet from the rain. The goal is to find an answer that fits the circumstances best and feels true.
Life, like chess, requires logic and skill to achieve success. However, in chess, you are given pieces with discrete rules and an established goal. In real life, you are responsible for determining what pieces are important — which is the practice of lateral thinking. Using a combination of perception, creativity, and intuition, you can find the correct path for business success.
How Does Lateral Thinking Benefit Businesses?
Too often, businesses become mired in the swamp of tradition. They fail to recognize when their current methods are no longer efficient, and thus, they fail to replace them with newer, better methods. Worse, many businesses alter their existing models and believe they are effecting sufficient positive change. Gary Hamel, management guru, explains, “Most companies are built for continuous improvement, rather than for discontinuous innovation.”
Gillette, a brand within Proctor & Gamble, is an outlier and an exemplar of the advantages of lateral thinking. One of their missions is to make their own products obsolete. As a result, the business offers better and better blades, often launching one product while its replacement is in development. This prevents competitors from sliding in edgewise.
Lateral thinking encourages businesses to pursue innovation this way. It helps leaders recognize the issues with existing systems and devise solutions that catapult businesses toward success.
How Do Leaders Practice Lateral Thinking?
A good way to begin practicing lateral thinking is to get out of your comfort zone and into an environment full of career-related challenges. For business leaders, that typically means perusing a California MBA, which also improves your earning potential and places you in contact with a network-full of fellow business leaders and innovators. You should also amass a few lateral thinking tools, which will help you generate ideas, focus your thoughts, and ensure value in your solutions. You should employ these tools whenever you encounter a problem, so you get in the habit of thinking laterally.
Later, you should begin applying lateral thinking techniques to your business practices. Lateral thinking is ideal for problem-solving, finding new paths, and inventing and innovating; whenever you endeavor to complete any of these activities, your mind should kick into lateral gear.
It takes time and effort to blaze your own trail, to break free of the chains of tradition. It takes a willingness to accept risk, as well. However, those who think laterally can attest that alternative ways of perceiving the world are extremely rewarding in business.