Lateral thinking a term coined by Edward de. Bono for a thinking tool he devised. In most schools (in Singapore anyway) this is more often refered to, albeit incorrectly, as Brainstorming.
In lateral thinking, the aim is to come up with as many alternatives as possible, without any inhibitions. Even if the idea is apparently stupid, or unusable. Lateral thinking is so called because it forces us to think of alternatives, as compared to vertical thinking where we build on a single idea.
It is like a row of terrace houses as opposed to a block of apartments; in a row of houses, the foundation’s never the same, you don’t build on a single foundation (idea).
The reason this is important is because in thinking of a solution/alternative, we often pick the first adaquate one that comes to mind. It might even be considered a good one. But keep this in mind, the good is often the worst enemy of the best. When we pick the first acceptable solution, we refuse to think any further and we stick to that mediocore option.
Next time you are asked to brainstorm alternatives, do not just come up with a few “sensible” ones, but with dozens of ideas, ideas apparently silly or otherwise.
Answers that are impossible or even stupid at first sight will lead you to think outside of the box, causing provocative thoughts that will lead to insights.