Just Chatting with Life

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Still Thinking straight ??

Here is an article i wrote for SJMSOM Magazine L!Ve -

Still thinking straight, eh?

Let’s start with a small puzzle-
It took two hours for two men to dig a hole five feet deep. How deep would it have been if ten men had dug the hole for two hours?

What is Your Answer? 25 Feet? 99 out of 100 people will give this as an answer. This is what we call “Straight thinking”. We never even think of approaching this problem from another perspective. What if the solution to this problem lay in looking at this problem in a totally different way? What if we use certain “lateral thinking” to solve the problem? What if, for example, the answer depended on the following conditions-

• A hole may need to be of a certain size or shape so digging might stop early at a required depth.
• It is possible that with more people working on a project, each person may become less efficient due to increased opportunity for distraction, the assumption he can slack off, more people to talk to, etc
• The two hours dug by ten men may be under different weather conditions than the two hours dug by two men.
• What if one man in each group is a manager who will not actually dig?


Many of the above answers might seem ridiculous. But hey, lateral thinking doesn’t always make sense. It is the approach and the thinking which is important. While the correct answer may lay in the conventional approach, lateral thinking allows us to examine a problem from different points of view which may bring out a previously hidden aspect of the problem.

So what exactly is this lateral thinking? Wikipedia defines lateral thinking as the reasoning that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. This term was coined by the noted psychologist Maltese psychologist Edward De Bono. De Bono is also known for his Six Thinking Hats.
It is a common misconception that lateral thinking means thinking in a crazy way. While it is true that lateral thinking involves thinking in a crazy way, but the real meaning of lateral thinking involves perspectives. Lateral thinkers are adept at exploring an issue from multiple perspectives.

One of the most famous lateral thinkers of out time is Steve Jobs. He has always challenged conventional and traditional thinking. Many years before Microsoft came out with Windows, Apple was already implementing its windowing system. People were skeptical, many did not see the need for an elaborate graphical interface when Operating Systems such as UNIX provided such a powerful text based interface. But Jobs had the courage and foresight to think different and this decision probably paved the way for PCs becoming popular. When Apple came out with the stunning iMac with its strikingly sleek white body and the bright colors, most people did not understand why a Computer needed to be beautiful. But Steve Jobs said, why not? If it has never been tried before, how do you know it won’t be successful? And this one strong belief of lateral thinkers: they are always ready to push the limits. Always ready to challenge the obvious? Another Example. Apple was a computer company. What business it had to venture into the music player business. But it did and the results there for everyone to see.

One interesting aspect to look at is the link between lateral thinking and innovation. Wikipedia defines innovation as the process of making changes to something established by introducing something new. Notice the words change and new in the definition. When you are changing something or making something new, it means that you have discovered a way in which the traditional way can be bettered. This implies that you must have looked at the existing way from a different perspective. This fits in very nicely with our definition of a lateral thinker. Thus it would be fair to assume that most of the innovations are brought about lateral thinkers. Of course, here I am excluding the accidental innovations.

For most of us, the fact that most people buy Cigarettes or Beedis in lots of one and two would be something that we neglect without even thinking. But this very behavior prompted C.K. Ranganath, Chairman and MD, Cavinkare Industries, to make a revolutionary innovation in the shampoo business. His logic was simple: people don’t want to buy large quantity in one go, so why force them. Why not give them a small quantity which will be useful as well as affordable. And this thinking is what led to the introduction of Shampoo in Sachet. With a single stroke, Cavinkare changed the face of business. And it involved lateral thinking on the part of Mr. Ranganath to bring about this innovation.

This brings us to an important question: is it possible to develop lateral thinking? And the answer is yes. While it is true that some people have a built in mechanism to think laterally, it is possible for others to develop this quality. And how should we do that? Simplest way is to be curious. Be curious about the world around you. Ask why a particular thing is like it is. Ask yourself whether you can do it differently. And remember it doesn’t always have to make sense. Some of the solutions you give might sound silly. You will fail. But don’t let that deter you. The one jackpot that you hit will be worth all the failures. Steve Jobs won’t be where he is now, if he would not have thought in a lateral way. So are you still thinking straight? Because if you are, its time to take a (lateral) relook at your thought process.

10 Comments:

  • superb article!
    I've read a bit about lateral thinking.. we once had a class on creativity.. thats where we discussed this.interestin stuff!

    By Blogger Neha, at April 11, 2006 9:38 PM  

  • superb article!
    I've read a bit about lateral thinking.. we once had a class on creativity.. thats where we discussed this.interestin stuff!

    By Blogger Neha, at April 11, 2006 9:38 PM  

  • superb article!
    I've read a bit about lateral thinking.. we once had a class on creativity.. thats where we discussed this.interestin stuff!

    By Blogger Neha, at April 11, 2006 9:40 PM  

  • oops!! sorry abt the triple comment.. it just wudnt let me comment..

    By Blogger Neha, at April 11, 2006 9:41 PM  

  • Well Neha, though i don't know u but I guess u want to make Rahul learn that by heart;) just kidding !
    BTW nice article dude.

    By Blogger Tarun, at April 13, 2006 11:55 AM  

  • he he Neha chalta hai ! nice to hear that u liked it . Hoping for a positive response when the magazine is published

    By Blogger Phooka, at April 14, 2006 12:17 AM  

  • gud one!!
    well Rahul,its other thing u never comment on my articles,bt i dnt mind..ur articles use to be very gud...

    By Blogger Harry, at April 20, 2006 3:55 PM  

  • hi rahul...i learning lateral thinking for last 2-3 years...off course i liked what you said...its really relevant...the examples etc. friend if u know who (person or institute) takes these lateral thinking courses in india? ...and yes...one thing i think latereal thinking can become a full time and always usefull skill. what do u say?
    My email is seventhsense@gmail.com

    By Anonymous Pawan Sarda, at April 23, 2006 2:17 PM  

  • Sorry guys for not replying so long . Was busy with exams. Will be blogging with full force now .

    By Blogger Phooka, at April 24, 2006 5:17 PM  

  • phookis ! cool article ;)

    By Blogger KK, at April 27, 2006 12:11 PM  

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