Lateral & Creative Thinking


Lateral and creative thinking work hand-in-hand with critical thinking as we solve problems.  Lateral thinking offers a somewhat structured way to generate new ideas, while creative thinking opens the door to all possibilities.  While critical thinking is needed in identifying and starting to solve problems, lateral and creative thinking help generate multiple, different, and often unexpected solutions.

Lateral Thinking

One way to deal with assumptions and problem-solving is to develop your lateral thinking skills. Lateral thinking includes a conscious generation of alternative solutions, and a conscious questioning of assumptions.

Read the article on Lateral Thinking Skills and watch the following video on lateral thinking.

How can we think laterally, when our brains are programmed to think in terms of patterns and linear movement from point A to point B?  Play on that proclivity for patterns and apply a pattern to help you think outside of the box.

  • On a sheet of paper, make three columns.  Title the first “positives,” the second “negatives,” and the third “interesting.”
  • List out the positives, the negatives, and what’s interesting about the following situation: What if all cars were painted yellow?  What would be positive, negative and interesting about this situation?

Critical and Lateral Thinking are about being proactive in identifying assumptions and biases, and about using reasoning and your own insights to make decisions. Lateral thinking actually bridges critical and creative thinking, and provides an additional way in which we can consider information.

What is a problem that you have in your life right now that you can use lateral thinking to solve? Create a chart with the positives, negatives and interesting points for yourself.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking helps you solve problems in unexpected or new ways.

Read the article on What is Creative Thinking? and view the videos below for a fuller definition of creative thinking.

One really interesting example of creative thinking deals with a solution to dementia and Alzheimer’s patients wandering off. You can listen to a podcast explaining this creative solution, or read the text of the podcast on the page entitled The Bus Stop. Then read a reflection on this solution from a medical student in the blog post, A Wait for the Bus.

initial activity

Apply lateral and creative thinking to the scenario in the following video:

 Training Video: When the Phone Rings. (Example of poor receptionist skills.)

After viewing the video, apply lateral and creative thinking skills to the situation.  Put yourself in the role of supervisor of this employee, the woman who left at the start of the video.  The boss mentioned to you the assistant’s lack of appropriate protocol in taking messages and his need to apologize to the client. You need to relay the information to the assistant so that it does not happen again.  Instead of simply focusing on the negative and giving her a rebuke, consider the positive and interesting aspects of this employee and the situation (you’ve already identified the negative). How can you use the positive and interesting aspects of the employee’s behavior to help her develop into a stronger administrative professional?  More generally, what creative actions can you take to train newer employees and ensure that a situation like this does not happen again?

Write a brief analysis (3-4 pages) applying lateral and creative thinking skills to this situation.

Submit: analysis

in-depth activity

Choose one of the following options.


Option 1

Read the article “Your Brain on Creativity” from Psychology Today.

Apply lateral and creative thinking concepts to consider how the information in this article might be presented in an alternative, perhaps divergent way.  Then create that presentation, to represent the main ideas from the article in another way.

Submit: the presentation


Option 2

Identify a problem at work or with a community group.  Apply concepts and strategies of lateral and creative thinking, and generate at least 4 potential alternative solutions to the problem, solutions that are not the obvious ones, solutions that are “outside the box.”

Submit: a written proposal offering these solutions.  Include the following sections in the proposal:

  • statement of problem
  • discussion of why the obvious solution is not the best
  • presentation of alternative solutions with reasons why they are better than the obvious solution

interested in learning more about creative thinking?

You may want to read a relatively short book chapter on Creative Approaches to Problem Solving.

You may want to consider taking courses in:

  • Creativity Across the Disciplines
  • Creativity in the World Around Us
  • Psychology of Creativity

Related college Learning Goals

Communication: Express and receive ideas effectively, in multiple contexts and through multiple strategies.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Evaluate, analyze, synthesize and critique key concepts and experiences, and apply diverse perspectives to find creative solutions to problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.


For more information, see the College Learning Goals Policy.