Lateral Thinking Definition
The next framework in our anthology of models is the Lateral Thinking framework. This model is actually very useful in practice, particularly during a brainstorming session or a workshop, especially when the creative flows are not adding up to each other, and participants find it hard to create a positive cycle of brainstorming, blocking the cycle of generation of ideas.
In this sense, the Lateral Thinking model is very useful because it allows for removal of a hurdle; it kicks the process on track, and it provides some leverage, as well as some momentum to the teams. Before describing the model, it is also pivotal to understand that the limitations of the model itself: the Lateral Thinking does not provide a different perspective nor a diverse angle; in this sense that lateral thinking model is really a pendulum, moving around its focal point. While it allows for movement, it is still very constrained to the point of origin. So, it’s not ideal to brainstorm about ecosystems or adding a digital service to a product. It’s is probably a framework for sustaining innovation, not disrupting a marketplace.
The Lateral Thinking model is really an umbrella framework for five independent components: “Add”, “Subtract”, “Multiply”, “Divide”, and “Interdependence”.
When we apply the “Add”, the objective of the session participants is to think and come up with a new idea that starts from the original one, by adding a benefit, by adding a feature, by adding something, which is substantial. For example, adding a fabric softener to a laundry detergent, or adding an anti-cavity or a whitening benefit to a toothpaste.
The second component of the model is to “Subtract”, which is the opposite of the previous exercise. The idea is to brainstorm new concepts, where there is less of something. In the example of laundry detergent, it’s a detergent specific for cleaning baby clothes, so, e.g., less strong. But, of course, the most classical example for “Subtract” is Coca-Cola Light, with less sugar. So, in these two examples, the team is asked to brainstorm, starting from their original concept. In one case, to add benefits, and in the other, to reduce the concept by subtracting a feature.
The following step within the Lateral Thinking umbrella is the so-called “Multiply”, which is more of the same as adding, but different. Fabric softeners typically have a scent, so it means more scents of the fabric softener, by increasing the line-up. It’s more flavors of your vodka brand. It’s exactly the same vodka, but it has multiple flavors, so, adding melon, lemon and apple to your vodka. That’s multiplying. And the objective is to broaden the participants’ perspective in the brainstorm, by increasing the breadth of the line.
The fourth dimension is “Divide”, which is, of course, the opposite of the previous one. The divide is really about finding smaller transactional units, smaller pieces to our current product. So, in the context of laundry detergents, the divide’s example is the monodose. It’s candies that can be packed and sold per unit, rather than in a pre-sealed package. It’s selling cigarettes by the unit, rather than the pack.
The final component, in the Lateral Thinking model, is “Interdependence”. This exercise is complementary, and sometimes, it’s not fully substitute for the others, it actually overlaps with the others, but it’s a good exercise as it allows us to think in terms of color, shape, material and size, whether there is anything that we can do if we want to actually change the characteristics of our product base, increase and reduce the breadth of our line.
Of course, when we talk about color, shape, material and size packaging, sometimes, this is equivalent to the exercises of multiplying or dividing. It helps us thinking more broadly. Some of ideas might be similar to multiplying. Multiplying and adding are sometimes more of the same, more colors, more flavors, different shapes, black detergent, red detergent, and white detergent. So, there is some overlap as in the previous exercise. This interdependence model is really useful in terms of thinking how far do we want to go, in terms of our line. So, in that sense, it is complementary to the previous four.
In conclusion, Lateral Thinking model is a brainstorming, creative approach, which allows us to start from a concept, and develop more ideas. It’s very useful when there is a blocked team dynamic in a brainstorming session, but it is very limited in terms of scope and how radical a generated idea can actually be.