Dr. Edward de Bono is regarded by many as the leading world authority in the field of creativity. He is the inventor of the phrase “Lateral Thinking” which has been cited now in the Oxford English Dictionary. His Lateral Thinking tools are based directly on how the brain functions as a self-organizing information system.
Necessity is the mother of inventions. When people are hard pressed for finding solutions to their problems, they will figure out a way to find it. This means people think laterally when they are pushed to find solutions for their problems; and when they need quick solutions. Since the beginning of human life, enormous changes around us have taken us to a path of scientific progress, which in turn has benefited mankind in a number of ways. In every era, men invented many things in order to cater to their rising needs; most of the inventions happened when the inventors were forced to think laterally/tangentially.
Biro is still the generic name used for the ballpoint pen in most of the world. A Hungarian journalist named Ladislao Biro invented the first ballpoint pen. Biro was a Hungarian journalist who turned his mind to pen invention because he was thoroughly fed up with fountain pens.
As a busy reporter with deadlines, he found smudged notes and ink stains on his clothes a distasteful occupational hazard. He used to be frustrated often with his mucky hands and clothes due to the ink of his fountain pen. He used to often think about finding a solution to the writing instrument.
And lo! One day while looking at the printing process of his column an idea struck his mind – the printing presses used a different thicker ink for producing newspapers that dried quickly and fixed itself to paper. After many trials and testing, Biro discovered a small rotating nib would allow thinner quick-drying ink to be used. Despite the fact World War Two was still raging, Biro and his brother, Georg, a chemist, patented the design of the ballpoint in 1943.
When people and organizations are open to encourage innovations a lot of thoughts are generated. Superiors in such organizations need to tolerate things that do not totally fit in their viewpoint; they need to agree to senselessly inspired ideas at times. Sometimes, we get solutions offered by an average person around us. Let me tell you all ideas, crafts, inventions, beautiful drawings are intangible (abstract) in the initial stages. Ideas don’t come in a full form, they are initially blurred visions/images coming and going in the minds of the inventors. They are difficult to grasp or grab. While creativity is the hallmark of invention, the process of creating a novel product or service suitable for commerce and trade it is not without taking capital risk, lots of energy, man-hours. Organizations like 3M, Johnson & Johnson, Sony, and LG have fortitude, spirit to accept innovations from people working at all levels in their organization.
Earle Dickson was employed as a cotton buyer for the Johnson & Johnson. Purely out of love for his wife – Josephine Dickson who always cut her fingers in the kitchen while preparing food. Earle Dickson accidently invented Band Aid. One day while he came home for lunch and as usual his wife had cut her finger and was nursing her injured finger, Earl took a piece of gauze and attached it to the center of a piece of tape, and then covered the product with crinoline to keep it sterile. This is how Band-Aid was born. His boss, James Johnson, saw Earle Dickson’s invention and decided to manufacture band-aids for the public. In a little while later, Earle Dickson was promoted to the rank of vice-president of Johnson & Johnson.
In the early 1970s, Art Fry an employee of 3M Corporation was in search of a bookmark for his church hymnal that would neither fall out nor damage the hymnal page. Art Fry was aware of an adhesive prepared by a colleague at 3M, Doctor Spencer Silver, which was quick to stick, was not soggy to feel and effective to stick to a paper/cardboard surface. It left no residue after removal. Arthur Fry took some of Spencer Silver’s adhesive and applied it along the edge of a piece of paper. His reading of church hymnal problem was solved!
Arthur Fry soon realized that his “bookmark” had other potential functions when he used it to leave a note on a work file, and co-workers kept dropping by, seeking “bookmarks” for their offices. This “bookmark” was attractive and elegant, small in size which was instantly appreciated by one and all at 3M. It was christened as ‘Post It’ at 3M Corporation, which was creatively marketed. Art Fry’s Post it bookmarks was born out of a perpetual problem controlling pages of his church hymnal book. Arthur Fry’s new bookmarks began production in the late seventies for commercial use.
Lateral thinking recognizes that our brains are pattern recognition systems, and that they do not function like computers. It takes time to coach our brainpower before we learn to do simple arithmetic – something that computers do very easily. How can a brain perform difficult tasks in one hundred steps that the largest parallel computer can’t solve in a million or a billion steps? The answer is the brain doesn’t “compute” the answers to problems; it retrieves the answers from memory. In essence, the answers were stored in memory a long time ago. It only takes a few steps to get back something from memory to finds solutions. Slow neurons are not only fast enough to do this, but they constitute the memory themselves. De Bono has explained the process and strength of lateral thinking.
Often solutions found by human brain are based on some past problem and its solution which he connects to in a similar situation. Normally it does not occur to us to use solutions belonging to other patterns. A lateral thinking technique is breaking out of the “pattern” thinking, tapping into the unknown.
The history of calculator goes like this – according to the museum of HP Calculators: Logarithms made it possible to perform multiplications and divisions by addition and subtraction. Mathematicians had to look up into two logs, add them together and then look for the number whose log was the sum. Edmund Gunter reduced this labor by drawing a number line in which the positions of numbers were proportional to their logs. William Oughtred simplified things further with the slide rule by taking the two Gunter’s lines and sliding them relative to each other thus eliminating the dividers. William Oughtred made the first slide rule by inscribing logarithms on wood or ivory. Before the invention of the pocket or handheld calculator, the slide rule was a popular tool for calculations and the world got its calculator!
Gillette the man behind the shaving blades was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1855. To support himself when the family’s home was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, Gillette became a traveling salesman. This work led him to William Painter, the inventor of the disposable Crown Cork bottle cap, with whom Gillette struck a friendly cord. Gillette was also interested in making some money. Once while chatting with Gillette, Crown told him that a successful invention is one that is bought by someone. In 1895, after several years of considering and rejecting possible device, Gillette suddenly had a brilliant idea while shaving one morning. A sleek design of an entirely new razor and blade flashed in his mind—a razor with a safe, inexpensive, and disposable blade.It took six years for Gillette’s idea to evolve. During those days, technical experts told Gillette that it would be impossible to produce hard steel which could be cut into thin and sleek portions. In 1901, MIT graduate William Nickerson agreed to try this experiment and by 1903, he had succeeded. Production of the Gillette ® safety razor blade began at the Gillette Safety Razor Company which was incorporated in South Boston. Sales grew steadily. During World War I, the U.S. Government issued Gillette safety razors to the entire armed forces. By the end of the war, some 3.5 million razors and 32 million blades were put into military hands.
Lateral thinking is all about reasoning that is not immediately obvious and about ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. Authors, poets, scientists, researchers, doctors, teachers, musicians, entrepreneurs all of them are lateral thinkers. A creative person thinks prudently. He looks at his work from variety of angles. He looks at his own creation critically, examines pro and cons. Asking himself rather unusual questions.
There is a phrase in business that goes “work smarter, not harder”. But what exactly does this mean? The key idea behind this phrase is that just working longer hours is not always the answer to getting something done. Finding a better and more effective method, choosing and attacking a problem from a new angle can harvest much greater returns for the individual and the business.
New products, ideas, strategies, models, innovations and progresses come with a question tags attached to them such as ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘when’ ‘whom’, ‘how many’ etc.