Lateral thinking is about confidence and self-esteem. It’s about a mental freedom that we all have but that can only be truly tapped once we are aware of the biases that are inherent in the way our brain is wired. To really break free of the norm and create something new and different you initially need a process or a system that needs to be repeated until it eventually becomes second nature. Thinking differently is not something new – there are ample examples from history that prove this claim, and an awareness of examples of what constitute ‘lateral solutions’ is important if we are to begin to make the first steps.
Consider the following true story from history.
In 1334 A.D., the commandant of the Castle Hochosterwitz, in southern Austria, was facing a desperate situation. The castle, situated atop a rocky hilltop, was surrounded below by the army of the Duchess of Tyrol. The defenders of the castle had fought a gallant battle but their supplies were running low. They were down to their last ox and only two bags of barley. With the end in sight, the commandant of the castle weighed his options. Rationally it would appear that two courses of action were available: either fight to the ‘bloody end’ or else surrender the castle and face the wrath of the attackers. Either option did not look too encouraging if you happened to be one of the defenders of the castle.
In a way you can draw parallels between this story and business management today. Most organizations and businesses are almost under constant attack as companies are engaged in head-to-head competition, fighting for competitive advantage and battling over market share. As the profit pool continues to decline, jobs ( and lives ) could be threatened, with the resultant head-on approach leading inevitably to an undesirable conclusion.
So what do you do ? How do you approach the situation ?
Going back to our story, the lord of the castle decided to do something that would appear to defy reason, at least by most thinking standards.
First he had the ox slaughtered and the carcass stuffed with the two remaining bags of barley. Then he had the defenders throw it over the walls of the castle so that it would land directly in front of the opposing army’s encampment below.
A crazy thing to do, you might think ? Maybe so, but in this particular case it had the effect of demoralizing the Duchess’ army. She and her troops saw it as an act of defiance on the part of the defenders. The message came across that they were willing to fight to the end and that they had more than enough supplies to continue the battle for as long as they wanted. The move had the desired outcome: the Duchess immediately withdrew her army, the siege was lifted and the castle was saved!