Vertical thinking vs Lateral thinking

Vertical thinking

Vertical thinking is the traditional think model. Working on known theories, knowledge and experience, it pursues in-depth analysis and investigation by certain thinking path. It is suitable for intensive research on well defined problems.


Lateral thinking

In contrary, Lateral thinking breaks away from the tradition, and turns to new angles for new perceptions of the same object. While Vertical thinking puts emphasis on one single dimension, the breadthwise on multiple dimensions. It tries to tackle the problem from many directions and many angles, so it has better potential in creativity.

Starting from one concept, it will lead to matters with similar, or related features.

Characteristics of Lateral thinking:

It breaks free from constrains, attacks from all directions, reaches new sides of the problem where traditional thinking fails. When an idea flashes over, it grabs it, to dig it over intensively.

The drawbacks of Lateral thinking:

Without effective constrains, such thinking method can produce designs that's disengaged from reality.

Example of Lateral Thinking:

One day you have just played tennis with your friends, you are very thirsty when you arrive home. You go into the kitchen and you find a bottle of soda in the fridge. However, you cannot find a bottle opener. What do you do?

There might be more than a hundred solutions for the situation but the solutions can be classified into two main groups:

  1. The first group of the solutions still focus on how to open the bottle. This kind of solution is the result of processing known theories, knowledge and experience on ways of opening things. Therefore, this group of solutions are generated from vertical thinking.
  2. The second group of solutions get rid of soda. They have already broken free from the given constrains and start to attack the problem from different directions. Therefore, this group of solutions are generated from letheral thinking.

Example of vertical thinking Example of lateral thinking
  • Open the bottle with teeth
  • Open the bottle with the edge of table or wall
  • Borrow bottle opener from others
  • Put the bottle into the fridge. Soda expands when it is frozen, the pressure generated by the expanding soda could force the bottle to open.
  • Break the bottle
  • etc....
  • Drink something else, say tap water
  • Buy a drink from convenience store
  • Have some fruit instead
  • Keep on look for other drinks at home.
  • etc...