Lateral thinking for project leaders; Ways of ‘searching widely’

January 23, 2007

Project leaders are well aware of the need for searching widely for new ideas. Lateral Thinking methods have been successfully applied in a range of business contexts. Two experienced business educators summarise their approach for working with MBA project teams.

We have been applying Lateral Thinking methods with cohorts of MBA students for several decades. Our work has drawn heavily on the original concepts of Edward de Bono who popularized the term Lateral Thinking.

Here is a powerpoint presentation about lateral thinking. We prepared it to help teams in ‘searching widely’ in projects.

Lateral Thinking for Project Work

We have been working for several years with Dr de Bono, and also with his colleagues at the institute for the development of thinking, at The University of Malta.

Our focus has been to adapt the ideas of our collaborators to meet the specific requirements of teams of graduate business students. These experiences confirm the benefits of the approach, and findings have been published in various papers and books on creativity for for business professionals.

For a recent introduction to creativity in business see the (admittedly lengthy) monograph from The Innovation Research group at Brighton University Business School. The report will go more deeply into the brief summary we offer here.

Mapping the Project

Before looking for new ideas we recommend a project team to carry out a Mapping in order to develop a shared understanding of key issues in any project activity. The Mind Map will be the starting point for discussing ‘what’s the best way to describe the brief as a challenge or problem’. Keep the mind map in your shared project space (real or electronic)

Lateral thinking for New Perspectives and Ideas.

We have identified three Lateral Thinking techniques which help in the production of new ideas. The three techniques (Reversals, Wouldn’t it be Wonderful If, and Jolts) are summarized in a powerpoint by ourselves on using Lateral Thinking in project work.

Once you understand how to apply the techniques you can take the map you made, and list perspectives or starting points for the project We recommend using the convention beginning ‘ How To …’. You may only need one or two breakthrough perspectives, but search widely in order to obtain those valuable How Tos. You will need many more How Tos before you can be sure that you have done a good job at this ‘search widely’ stage.

A breakthough perspective is a focus for more ‘wide searching’, and more lateral thining. Again, ‘Reversals’, ‘Wouldn’t it be Wonderful if’ and Jolts help in arriving at valuable and unexpected ideas.

Finally, in project work, the strongest ideas are coupled with actions. Can you work on the ideas so that the follow-up actions are visualised in your statement of each idea?

Summary

This is a brief introduction to the application of Lateral Thinking techniques within project work. Some people find it comes easily, others have to practice. Our experience is that anyone can become skilled at such thinking. Teams can help those members who are less comfortable with Lateral Thinking by providing a supportive and relaxed environment. Treat meetings as ways to progress the project, but also as ways to develop skills at generating valuable ideas within any project experience.