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Increase Your Creativity With Lateral Thinking
A Guide to Feeling More Creative
Welcome to Designing Futures. I’m Josh and every week, I simplify and share practical design and UX guides for Indie hackers, founders and product teams on taking ideas from zero to one.
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Many people believe they aren’t creative or simply don’t possess the natural skills to be. However, this simply isn't true; creativity is a muscle that anyone can learn to use in their lives and day-to-day work.
This week, I'm going to break down what creativity is, and how you can immediately tap into your creative potential using 'lateral thinking'. I'll also share real examples of how I've applied this approach as a designer on product teams.
“Creativity is a fundamental aspect of being human. It’s our birthright.” - Rick Rubin
What is creativity?
In its simplest form, creativity is the ability to generate new ideas or solutions.
This can be applied across various domains—be it art, science, business, or everyday life. While people often associate creativity with artistic or design-led endeavors, it's much more expansive than that.
Creativity isn't just about painting a canvas or designing a new interface. It can manifest in creating a recipe for a dinner with friends, devising a solution to a problem, or even reorganising a hectic work calendar.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to tap into your creative potential is through a concept that Edward de Bono introduced in his international best-seller: 'lateral thinking.'
Lateral thinking involves finding new ways to solve problems by looking at them from different angles. One of the best ways Edward explains this is by contrasting it with 'linear' thinking. He describes linear thinking as “A train journey from Point A to Point B to Point C—it's efficient but constrained by laid tracks”. In lateral thinking, you're free to rearrange the journey; your train might start at Point B, go to Point C, and then to Point A.
On a less abstract note, I've applied lateral thinking many times in my design work:
It's encouraged me to reorganise the hierarchy of a screen's UI by considering various ways users might view or interpret it.
It's inspired me to conduct competitor research in analogous or 'lateral' fields, outside of my current domain. Instead of just examining competitors in fintech, what might I learn from solutions in healthtech or edtech?
On a lighter note, it's helped me energise participants in workshops that I've led by starting off with a game called 'Generate Alternatives.'
Let’s walk through what that looks like.
Practicing generating alternatives
Edward de Bono has a section of his book called "the generation of alternatives," which inspired me to create a quick and simple game. I've used it as an ice-breaker in workshops that I've led, involving everyone from engineers and product managers to healthcare clinicians.
This exercise is an incredibly effective way to make participants feel comfortable sharing ideas, create a collaborative environment, and boost overall engagement.
The game is straightforward. Think of as many alternative interpretations as possible for a given set of shapes.
For instance, they could be:
Three overlapping plates
A misaligned hazard symbol
The iPhone 16's camera system
Lateral thinking helps us to appreciate the importance of disrupting established patterns of thought.
Lateral thinking teaches us the value of breaking free from established thought patterns. I highly recommend running this exercise into any future workshops where visual thinking is needed—whether you're wireframing, brainstorming, or sharing ideas in any other capacity. Draw some basic shapes, hand out post-it notes, and write "What could this be?" above them.
Here’s an snapshot from the book:
“The most basic principle of lateral thinking is that any particular way of looking at things is only one from among many other possible ways. Lateral thinking is concerned with exploring these other ways by restructuring and rearranging the information that is available. The very word 'lateral’ suggests the movement side ways to generate alternative patterns instead of moving straight ahead with the development of one particular pattern” - Edward De Bono
Think of lateral thinking as both a prompt and your creative reminder. Use it when you want to broaden your perspective as much as possible, whether you're redesigning the first impression users get during the onboarding flow or looking for a fresh way to articulate your solution.
Challenge yourself to pause and consider: Have I explored all the ways to approach this? Is there another angle? Creativity is boundless; there's always another perspective.
In a world racing toward innovation, lateral thinking is more than just a tool—it's a necessity. Linear thinking can often lead to predictable, uninspired solutions.
Unlock your creativity by looking at challenges and opportunities from a new angle—a lateral one.
"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou
What's Creativity: The skill to make new ideas or solutions.
Lateral Thinking: A multi-angle approach to problem-solving.
Generating Alternatives: Practice interpreting shapes in different forms.
See you next week,
Josh (@joshuanewton1) 🔮
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