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The Role of Lateral Thinking in Whole Brain® Thinking

by | Aug 30, 2023

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Whole Brain® Thinking, based on the premise of valuing diverse thinking styles, plays a vital role in effective decision-making. It recognises the unique strengths of analytical, practical, relational and experimental thinking. As for the meaning of lateral thinking, in a nutshell, it involves taking a creative approach to a problem or challenge. Enhancing Whole Brain® Thinking through effective lateral thinking is not only a valuable workplace skill but also raises the question of how these two elements can work together.

What is Whole Brain® Thinking?

The Whole Brain® Thinking methodology is a science-backed system for measuring and defining cognitive diversity in individuals, teams, and organisations. It helps you grasp your thinking preferences and use that understanding to enhance how you solve problems, make decisions, communicate, stay productive, and take care of your well-being.

Whole Brain® Thinking is based on the Whole Brain® Model made up of four quadrants, each with its own unique characteristics and preferences:

Herrmann Whole Brain® Thinking Model

Each quadrant is important and unique, with no thinking style being better than the other. The exciting part is that everyone has potential in all four thinking preferences. You just need the tools to unlock each quadrant. We all use all four parts of our Whole Brain® every day, even though we might be more comfortable with some types of thinking. 

The key is to find a balance between these quadrants for well-rounded thinking. Embracing all four types of thinking brings benefits like better problem-solving, effective planning, improved relationships, and innovative ideas. By understanding and using the strengths of each quadrant, you can enhance your overall thinking and decision-making skills.

By undertaking the HBDI® assessment, you will understand your individual thinking preferences across the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.

Whole Brain® Thinking is a valuable asset in the workplace, but its true potential shines when paired with another crucial skill: lateral thinking. But what exactly is lateral thinking, and how does it complement the Whole Brain® approach?

What is Lateral Thinking?

We’ve all heard of the phrase, think ‘outside the box’. First termed by Edward de Bono this process is called lateral thinking, and it’s about being able to think creatively and look beyond conventional boundaries to solve a problem. It’s also known as horizontal thinking, as it’s suggested to look at problems from a sideways perspective to find solutions that may not always be immediately apparent

When considering the distinction between lateral thinking and vertical thinking, it’s essential to recognise that while lateral thinking emphasises a creative and unconventional approach, vertical thinking is the more conventional method, relying on logical reasoning to address problems straightforwardly. This doesn’t diminish the significance of vertical thinking; it aligns with how our minds naturally operate, drawing upon stored memories, established patterns, and collected data to form opinions. However, there are instances where challenging these patterns and subjecting them to scrutiny can lead to potential enhancements in problem-solving.

Vertical thinking is like digging a hole for your idea, while lateral thinking is about finding new places to dig. As de Bono mentions, “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”

Advantages of lateral thinking include:

  • Innovative Solutions: Thinking laterally generates creative and unique solutions that traditional thinking might overlook.
  • Problem Solving: It helps solve complex problems by encouraging novel approaches and out-of-the-ordinary ideas.
  • Enhanced Creativity: Regular practice of lateral thinking boosts overall creativity and imaginative thinking.
  • Breaking Barriers: Lateral thinking breaks through mental barriers, allowing individuals to explore new territories of thought.
  • Adaptability: It allows for adaptability by promoting flexible thinking, which is useful in rapidly changing situations.

Disadvantages of lateral thinking are:

  • Time Consuming: Generating unconventional ideas can be time-consuming, especially when quick solutions are needed.
  • Unpredictable Outcomes: The unconventional nature of lateral thinking can lead to unpredictable outcomes, sometimes resulting in unfeasible solutions.
  • Resistance: Traditional-minded individuals or environments might resist or struggle to understand lateral thinking concepts.
  • Risk of Overlooking Basics: Overemphasis on creative leaps might lead to neglecting foundational aspects or practical considerations.
  • Implementation Challenges: Converting unconventional ideas into actionable plans can pose implementation challenges due to their unconventional nature.

The Synergy Between Lateral and Whole Brain® Thinking

Lateral thinking is closely linked to Whole Brain® Thinking, as both emphasise breaking rigid thought patterns. While Whole Brain® Thinking sorts thinking into four quadrants, lateral thinking encourages unconventional approaches beyond this.

Lateral thinking complements each quadrant of the Whole Brain® Model by infusing creative elements into their strengths. For instance, in the analytical quadrant, lateral thinking can generate innovative data interpretation methods. In the practical quadrant, it might lead to unconventional strategies for efficient planning. In the relational quadrant, lateral thinking can foster empathetic solutions. Finally, in the experimental quadrant, lateral thinking enhances the generation of imaginative and unique ideas.

Lateral thinking also bridges the gaps between different thinking styles. For example, it can connect analytical thinking with emotional understanding, helping to humanise data-driven decisions. By encouraging such connections, lateral thinking promotes holistic and well-rounded thinking, enriching the benefits of Whole Brain® Thinking’s integrated approach.

Tips for Incorporating Lateral Thinking into Whole Brain® Thinking

  • Encourage open-mindedness: Create an environment where team members feel comfortable suggesting ideas that challenge the norm. Emphasise that unconventional ideas are valued and welcome in the problem-solving process, as this approach can stimulate creative thinking and broaden the range of solutions considered.
  • Use diverse brainstorming: Incorporate techniques like ‘Six Thinking Hats’ or random word association to break thought patterns and stimulate innovation.
  • Mix perspectives: Encourage team members from different thinking quadrants to share their perspectives on a problem to see what new solutions emerge.
  • Challenge assumptions: Prompt the team to challenge assumptions from different angles. To test this theory, you could try challenging your team to cut out ambiguous photos from newspapers and have them create three descriptions of what’s going on in the images and see what they come up with.
  • Embrace playful thinking: Embrace imaginative activities like role-playing to stimulate unconventional insights.
  • Empower risk-taking: Create a safe space where individuals feel comfortable taking risks with their ideas. Acknowledge that not all ideas will work, but that each idea contributes to the exploration process and can potentially lead to valuable insights.

Applying these tips enhances Whole Brain® Thinking with lateral approaches, resulting in more creative outcomes.

When people explore lateral thinking, they can enhance their Whole Brain® skills by understanding issues more deeply from various viewpoints. The connection between lateral and Whole Brain® Thinking empowers individuals to navigate complexities better and encourages new ideas. Embracing both methods not only improves problem-solving skills but also supports overall personal and professional growth.

Explore other ways to develop yourself professionally with the following resources:

How Being a Deep Thinker Makes You a Better Leader

How Herrmann helped Swinburne University of Technology create a culture of creativity, innovation and inclusivity

If you want to learn more about how Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI® can help you and your organisation, have a look at how it works here or get in touch and we’ll help you find the right solution. 

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