How to improve your lateral thinking skills

Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager

Some people are known for their ability to always think ‘outside the box.’ They seem to know how to approach a situation from different angles and perspectives, consistently solving problems and coming up with innovative solutions. What makes some people better at this than others? Well, it’s likely these individuals have strong lateral thinking skills.

Many creatives, for example, use lateral thinking habits to solve problems, pitch new ideas and produce strong results for their teams. These traits are very valued by employers and managers, as organizations can greatly benefit from individuals who know how to think in this way.


Do you want to know how to develop your own lateral thinking skills? While some people are more naturally gifted when it comes to this area, there are certain things you can do to improve the way you approach problems and offer solutions.

Creative Exercises to Improve Lateral Thinking

  • Rolestorming – what would you do if you were someone else? Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, or brain, and imagine what they would do in your situation.
  • Switch on your 5 senses – look at objects around you, analyze their shape and color; listen to sounds in your environment; use the senses of touch and smell. These elements will help you to start generating new ideas.
  • Create a Mind map – start off with your problem in the center, and branch out to draw the major topics, then sub-topics. This will help you visually organize information and show relationships among pieces of the whole.
  • Reverse thinking – think about what everyone will typically do, then do the opposite.
  • Write a 6-word story of your problem – make the language as simple yet imaginative as possible.

Lateral Thinking in Online Learning

Christopher Pappas, founder of the eLearning Industry’s Network, suggests asking your online learners thought-provoking questions – he calls this “identifying limiting cognitions.”

Maybe a past experience is an obstacle that they must overcome. For example, they naturally assume that this solution is the ONLY solution because it's always worked in the past,” Pappas says.

Asking questions that (respectfully) challenge an individual’s beliefs and assumptions helps to identify whether learners are looking at problems in a particular set frame of mind. People get stuck in the same old ways of thinking – stepping outside the comfort zone helps them to acknowledge these limiting cognitions and move beyond them. Riddles are an example of lateral thinking. Many riddles and puzzles work on assumptions, with the answer being a surprising side-step of the status quo. Lateral thinkers know how to identify clues other people overlook, and ask questions that will lead to the right answer.

Using Collaboration to Improve Lateral Thinking

Pappas also recommends incorporating group activities into your eLearning course, with online learners working together in a culture of collaboration.

As he explains, “every member of your audience has unique insights, experiences, and knowledge that they have to share.” By working as a group, each learner will be able to gain an insight into the problem-solving techniques of other learners. This encourages people to consider things from different perspectives, which Pappas considers “the greatest gift of all.”

“Online group collaboration projects allow them to collectively problem-solve and offer their point-of-view. As a result, every online learner gets to look at the problem from a new angle. They also recognize that there's more than one way to achieve the desired outcome,” he says.

There’s nothing to lose by trying out some of these things in your everyday work life. And by encouraging your online learners to do the same. Doing activities like this regularly will certainly help you become more aware of the way you use your brain to solve problems and approach issues. You may just surprise yourself when you start coming up with some cool solutions from out of left field. You might also find it quite relaxing, to switch your brain over to a different way of thinking throughout the day!


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