What is the Difference between Lateral Thinking and Linear Thinking?

Lateral thinking definition:

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach. By using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable. Also using only traditional step-by-step logic. An example: The Judgment of Solomon, where King Solomon resolves a dispute over the parentage of a child by calling for the child to be cut in half, and making his judgment according to the reactions that this order receives.

Alt=Lateral thinking is when you think outside of the box
Lateral thinking is when you think outside of the box


Linear thinking definition:

This is a process of thought following known cycles or step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken. Linear Thinking is based on logic, rules and rationality (or sustained reason) to solve a problem. The thought process is singular: there is one path toward completion which ignores possibilities and alternatives. It’s methodical, sequential and focused.

Neither Linear or Lateral Thinking is the right answer for every situation. They are simply different ways to think. Each having advantages and drawbacks. Linear Thinking (also known as Vertical Thinking) and Lateral Thinking (or Horizontal Thinking) were terms named by Edward de Bono in his 1967 book The Use of Lateral Thinking.


Alt= Linear Thinking is based on logic, rules and rationality to solve a problem
Linear Thinking is based on logic, rules and rationality to solve a problem

A person who uses Linear Thinking is constant.

Each step is dependent upon a yes or no option or solution. It’s easy to repeat, and to teach others. The process tends to be efficient, organized and completed on time. Not surprisingly, experts say this type of thinking accounts for 90% of our thinking each day and no wonder. In a business situation, this type of behavior is highly valued. In general, people who primarily use Linear Thinking are viewed as honest, mature and intelligent. The person using Linear Thinking is selective, concentrated and automatic. Many professions rely heavily on Linear Thinking: solicitors, accountants, police, scientists, for example.


Alt=A person who uses Linear Thinking is constant.
A person who uses Linear Thinking is constant.

Traditional Western thinking system is based upon linear logic. Whereas linear logic is useful in certain areas of the thinking process, it is almost entirely left brain based. This allows little room for the functioning of the right brain, the seat of creativity. If you look at our educational process, you will readily agree that it teaches, reinforces and rewards linear thinking. This is often downgrading, suppressing and even punishing creative or innovative thinking.

Natural tendency of the child to dream

Consider the natural tendency of the child to dream, to wonder, to allow his or her mind to wander and play with thoughts. We train that natural tendency and potential right out of them. We stress the importance of conformity at the expense of individuality and innovation. We place them in categories and learning tracks and trap them inside the limitations we have placed upon them. The emphasis we place on discipline, conformity and competition in the classroom, may serve to turn out great robots for the purposes of yesterday’s assembly line approach. This is still commonly practiced in the corporate world but does little to teach them life skills, nor does this approach turn out very many creative thinkers.

Lateral Thinking is a set of processes

It provides a deliberate, systematic way of thinking creatively that results in innovative thinking in a repeatable manner. While critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors. Lateral thinking is more concerned with the “movement value” of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating innovative ideas.


Alt=Lateral Thinking is a set of processes
Lateral Thinking is a set of processes

Four main categories of Lateral thinking tools:

  • Idea-generating tools which break free your current thinking patterns from their usual pathways.
  • Focus tools that open your mind to new possibilities in the search for new ideas.
  • Harvest tools that help maximize value is received from the idea generating output.
  • Treatment tools that ground the creativity process by making the wild ideas and make them fit the real world constraints, resources, and support.

Romans 12:2  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass. Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich