Vertical Thinking Vs. Lateral Thinking

Vertical Thinking versus Lateral Thinking

Vertical thinking refers to solving a problem by analysis. It focuses on the known and correct method to address a particular problem. Consequently, it helps you save time, money and energy; and you can get the results you want by hitting the bull’s eye. This approach may be the right one if you’re operating under tight budgets.

Better solutions and creative processes can be discovered only when you break out of your comfort zone of knowledge. Lateral thinking does just that. It attempts to break traditional notions which develop vertical or conditional thinking. Conditional thinking fails you in exploring the other possibilities or probably the best ideas.

Structured Vs. Restructured:
Vertical thinking encourages a sequential approach. There is a structured approach which you follow to redress a problem. You make decisions on the basis of the available knowledge base which you attempt to extend. On the other hand, lateral thinking attempts at restructuring the set pattern. By disorienting and restructuring the set pattern, it arrives at a new insight or a new approach to the organizational problem. Lateral thinkers believe that what is the best idea now can be out of fashion tomorrow. This attitude leads to the generation of new perspectives and ideas.

Logical Vs. Illogical:
Vertical thinking takes a logical approach. In fact, its methods have already proven to give the desired results. However, with lateral thinking, this is different. It seeks to approach a problem through ostensibly illogical methods. This does not mean lateral thinkers make illogical decisions. They combine both reasoning and imagination to arrive at the most suitable solution. They use critical and creative thinking skills to reach the desired outcome. Nevertheless, they do not believe this is the best solution forever. That is, in my view, the crux of lateral thinking.

I think vertical thinking deprives you of novelty, which is essential to find and apply to innovative processes in business management. It does not help generate any new ideas since it looks for a finite approach to a problem. So, there is little chance for experimentation and deviation from the right course. Though, vertical thinking helps you use details at every step. If information is not available, no further course of action can be taken. Therefore, I do not think one can solely depend on this problem solving approach, especially if the problem looks intractable.

Even when you are 100 percent sure that vertical thinking can help you solve a problem, you must not forget that you are closing the doors for better solutions. It always pays to have more alternatives to a problem than just one, so that you can choose the best and most creative approach. This is possible through lateral thinking. Lateral or creative thinking need not put any weight on your exchequer. These skills can be cultivated through proper training.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

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Written By

Asma Zaineb is a Marketing Manager at CommLab India. She is responsible for generating quality leads for sales via inbound marketing.

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10 comments on “Vertical Thinking Vs. Lateral Thinking
  1. Michael Spangle says:

    In looking up the definitions of these two terms I have concluded the following:
    Lateral thinking has the strength of opening up more options for consideration. It helps to take the blinders off. It results in that much abused phrase, “Thinking outside the box”.

    The difficulty, though, with lateral thinking is the tendency for all those thoughts that have been placed outside the box to go wandering off and getting lost. This is where vertical thinking shines. It takes all of those new thoughts and gives them structure and direction.

    I would say that the optimum project team would consist of a team leader who was a vertical thinker who had a mix of vertical and lateral thinkers on their team. They would have to possess enough trust to allow the lateral thinkers their head and enough wisdom to protect them from the vertical thinkers who might be quick to quash any ideas that were different. They would also have to possess enough discipline to keep the ideas safely corralled and focused so that the project would continue to move forward to a successful conclusion.

  2. Pamela Fontenot says:

    Michael’s comment above shows a bias towards vertical thinking in that his team leader would be a vertical thinker. This is not a surprise since our educational system values logic and analysis (vertical thinking) and undervalues creativity and brainstorming (lateral thinking) over results. Our educational and commerce systems are always moving towards tangible results – whether they are measured in grades (A-F) or revenue ($). Until the educational systems give equal worth to the right brain pursuits of creativity, we will continue to get the same results that we have trained people to give us.

  3. Uday Vaidya says:

    In fact, in any decision making process, there is a good blend of both vertical thinking and lateral thinking. You can separate them from each other. The lateral thinking is required for generating the ideas and vertical thinking is needed to Analise the ideas before implementing them. however the point to be noted is, the origin of both these activities are not same, vertical thinking is brain (conscious mind) activity whereas lateral thinking (best known as Creativity) is sub-conscious mind activity. And we all are aware that sub-conscious mind is stronger than conscious mind hence more desirable in decision making process.

  4. Here here, Uday! Why do we have to take an either/or approach? THAT is definitely something we’ve learned in school! I would even say, what works best for you? Each person is wired differently, and one way or the other shouldn’t be imposed on all people–even the way that some deem more creative or successful. Use whichever way, or both, that will get you the best results.

  5. Rob Zohn says:

    Cheers, really educational.

  6. Michael J. Spangle says:

    Pamela,
    If you read my complete post you will see that I do not have a bias toward vertical thinking. If there was no lateral thinking then the number and scope of new ideas would be, at best, extremely limited. I also pointed out that the team leader would have to not only trust the lateral thinkers enough to give them room to be creative, but also protect them from the limitations that might be imposed through peer pressure from the other vertical thinkers on the team.
    The choice of the team leader being a vertical thinker simply reflects the reality that the successful project requires the direction, structure, and yes logic that the vertical thinker provides.

  7. Pete Francis Bulmer says:

    This a very interesting topic and I think that different roles require different approaches but to be very successful in ones job both are required ,even an scientists and accountants and doctors need a certain amount of lateral thinking to solve problems, sales and marketing definitely need a bias to lateral thinking .

    Even project and team leaders need this balance because without it they will always go for the vertical thinking approach and block the lateral approach.

    The idea that putting a vertical pure vertical thinker in charge over literal thinkers does not work, one will just end up with vertical solutions, the answer in my view to this question is that we need a balance between the two approaches.

  8. Inta Cinite says:

    Great food for lateral thought! Certainly, like with everything in this world, an ideal would be a good balance between the both. If vertical thinking alone is somewhat limiting, lateral alone might get unfocused.

    Unfortunately, in business world linear problem solving dominates. Like Pamela wrote, our educational system is set up like that. Business program graduates are given a toolkit they are eager to apply to any business situation they encounter.

    Another reason for dominating vertical thinking in business is time constraint and the eternal pressure to produce. I once had a discussion with a front-line supervisor about hiring qualifications for a technician. He said: “If I have one candidate who is good at exploring issues and analyzing and the other who can fix the broken production line fast, I will pick the latter.” It was hard to blame him.

  9. amad says:

    I definitely encourage us not to take the path of black or white in here. The ultimate success, I believe, comes from a very well balanced Vertical and Lateral thinking skills that can recognize the time and place to best leverage either or both approches.

  10. Famed Yahiya says:

    Nice topic, very knowledgeable ! Opinions vary among the respondents due to different brain structures, leading to different amounts of doses of thinking categories, and different emotions that arose from thinking.

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