6 Top Classic Examples of Lateral Thinking


The term ‘lateral thinking’ was coined by Edward de Bono in 1967, and it involves solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious, and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using the traditional step-by-step logic.

Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking and Creativity

According to Edward de Bono, in his own words, “Lateral thinking is closely related to creativity, but whereas creativity is too often only the description of a result, lateral thinking is the description of a process. One can only admire a result but one can learn to use a process. There is about creativity a mystique of talent and intangibles. This may be justified in the art world where creativity involves aesthetic sensibility, emotional resonance and a gift for expression. but it is not justified outside that world. More and more creativity is coming to be valued as the essential ingredients in change and in progress. It is coming to be valued above knowledge and above technique since both these are becoming so accessible. In order to be able to use creativity one must rid it of this aura of mystique and regard it as a way of using the mind – a way of handling information. This is what lateral thinking is about.”

6 Top Classic Examples of Lateral Thinking

In brief, lateral thinking involves looking at problem from a different angle.  If you are still not clear, here are the 6 top classic examples of exactly how lateral thinking works.

(1) There is a man who lives on the top floor of a very tall building. Everyday he gets the elevator down to the ground floor to leave the building to go to work. Upon returning from work though, he can only travel half way up in the lift and has to walk the rest of the way unless it’s raining! Why?

(This is probably the best known and most celebrated of all lateral thinking puzzles. It is a true classic. Although there are many possible solutions which fit the initial conditions, only the canonical answer is truly satisfying.)

(2) A man and his son are in a car accident. The father dies on the scene, but the child is rushed to the hospital. When he arrives the surgeon says,”I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son!” How can this be?

(3) A man is wearing black. Black shoes, socks, trousers, lumper, gloves and balaclava. He is walking down a black street with all the street lamps off. A black car is coming towards him with its light off but somehow manages to stop in time. How did the driver see the man?

(4) Why is it better to have round manhole covers than square ones? This is logical rather than lateral, but it is a good puzzle that can be solved by lateral thinking techniques. It is supposedly used by a very well-known software company as an interview question for prospective employees.

(5) A man went to a party and drank some of the punch. He then left early. Everyone else at the party who drank the punch subsequently died of poisoning. Why did the man not die?

(6) A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water. The barman pulls out a gun and points it at the man. The man says ‘Thank you’ and walks out.

(This puzzle claims to be the best of the genre. It is simple in its statement, absolutely baffling and yet with a completely satisfying solution. Most people struggle very hard to solve this one yet they like the answer when they hear it or have the satisfaction of figuring it out.)

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