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Think Laterally

Think Laterally

Lateral thinking is a phrase coined by Edward de Bono as a counterpoint to conventional or vertical thinking. In conventional thinking we go forward in a predictable, direct fashion. Lateral thinking involves coming at the problem from new directions – literally from the side. De Bono defines the four main aspects of lateral thinking as follows:

  1. The recognition of dominant polarizing ideas.
  2. The search for different ways of looking at things.
  3. A relaxation of the rigid control of vertical thinking.
  4. The use of chance.

There are dominant ideas in every walk of life. They are the assumptions, rules and conventions that underpin systems and influence people’s thinking and attitudes. The idea that the Earth was flat or that the Earth was the centre of the Universe are examples of dominant ideas that polarized thought along set lines.

Once the dominant ideas are in place then everything else is viewed in a way that supports them.Someone who is paranoid sees every attempt to help them as malevolent and manipulating.Someone who believes in a conspiracy theory will explain away any inconvenient facts as deliberately constructed by the powers behind the conspiracy.

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Most organisations have dominant ideas that polarise their view of the world. It is easy for us to be critical of the makers of horse-drawn carriages who thought that automobiles were silly contraptions that would never catch on. However we are the captives of established ideas too.

A lateral thinking technique we can use is to write down all the dominant ideas that apply in our situation and then to deliberately challenge them. So for example the major airlines used to work with these beliefs:

  • Customers want high standards of service.
  • We issue tickets for all flights.
  • We allocate seating in advance.
  • We sell through travel agents.
  • We fly to major airports because that is what business travellers want.

Of course the low-cost airlines broke all of these rules and created a huge new market. A good start with lateral thinking is to deliberately turn every assumption and dominant idea on its head and see where that leads.

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Asking ‘What if?’ is a lateral thinking technique that helps us to explore possibilities and challenge assumptions at the same time. We use the ‘What if?’ question to stretch every dimension of the issue. Each ‘What if?’question should be extreme to point of being ridiculous. Say we are running a small charity that cares for homeless dogs. The challenge is, ‘How can we double our fund-raising income?’ The sort of ‘What if?’ questions we could ask might be:

  • What if we had only 1 donor?
  • What if we had 10 million donors?
  • What if we had an unlimited marketing budget?
  • What if we had no marketing budget?
  • What if everyone had to look after a homeless dog for a day?
  • What if dogs slept in beds and people slept in kennels?
  • What if dogs could speak?

The question ‘What if we only had one donor?’ might suggest that we target fabulously wealthy dog lovers in order to raise more funds from fewer donors.We could explore ways of doing this and generate all sorts of ideas. ‘What if dogs could speak?’ might suggest ways of marketing that involved speaking dogs or dog conversations.Each question generates stimulating lines of enquiry by testing the rules and dominant ideas boundaries that are assumed to apply to the problem.

Start with a challenge and, individually or in a group, generate a short list of really provocative ‘what if?’ questions. Take one and see where it leads. Follow the crazy train of thought and see what emerges. You will start with silly ideas but these often lead to radical insights and innovations.

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The role of chance in major inventions and scientific discoveries is well documented.The transmission of radio waves was discovered by Hertz when some of his equipment happened to produce a spark on the other side of the room.Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin when he noticed that one of his old petrie dishes had developed a mould that was resistant to bacteria.X-Rays were discovered accidentally by Roentgen when he was playing with a cathode ray tube. Christopher Columbus discovered America when he was looking for a route to India.

The common theme is that someone with a curious mind sets out to investigate things.When something unusual happens they study it and see how it can be put to use.The same methods can work for us.When we are looking for new ideas and fresh ways to do things then a random input can help us.

A highly effective brainstorming technique is to take a noun at random from the dictionary.Write down some associations or attributes of the word and then force fit connections between the word or its associations and the brainstorming challenge.People do not believe that it works until they try it.Some words produce nothing worthwhile but every so often you will get really radical ideas using this method.

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The same approach works using a random object, picture, song and so on. This is why a walk around a museum or art gallery can be so useful when we are working on a knotty problem. The brain can make all sorts of lateral connections between the variety of stimuli that you encounter and the problem.

A great deal of humour is based on lateral thinking. The comedian ridicules existing beliefs; he comes at an issue from unusual directions; he makes unexpected connections to give the surprise that makes us laugh. The two best reasons to use lateral thinking in our everyday lives are because we will generate many fresh, better ideas and because it is great fun.

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Paul Sloane

Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

Knowledge is essential to become successful in life, your career and your business. Without learning new concepts and becoming proficient in our craft, we cannot excel in our chosen careers or archive knowledge to pass down to the next generation.

But content comes in various forms, and because how we learn influences how much we know, we need to talk about learning styles. This article will focus on how to utilize visual learning to boost your career or business.

The Importance of Knowing Your Learning Style

Knowing your learning style enables you to process new information to the best of your ability. Not only does it reduce your learning curve, you’re able to communicate these same concepts to others effectively.

But it all starts when you’re able to first identify the best way you learn.

As a college student, I soon figured out that taking online courses without visual aids or having an instructor in front of me led to poor retention of concepts.

Sure, I got good grades and performed excellently in my online exams. However. I discovered that I couldn’t maintain this performance level because I forgot 80 percent of the course content by the end of the semester.

There are several types of learning styles known to mankind. To give an idea of how visual learning stacks up against other learning styles, here’s a brief mention of some of the different types of learning styles we have.

The four most popular types of learning styles are:

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  • Visual learning style (what this article talks about).
  • Aural or auditory learning style (learning by listening to information presented).
  • Verbal or linguistic learning style (learning that involves speech and writing).
  • Tactile learning style (learning by touching and doing)

But for the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on using visual learning to boost your career or business.

How to Know If You’re a Visual Learner?

When it comes to boosting your career, business (or education), a visual learner is one who would most definitely choose shapes, images, symbols, or reading over auditory messages.

I’m talking about preferring to read an actual map when navigating to a new place over listening to verbal directions. I’m talking about discovering that you actually have trouble remembering what your manager said at the meeting because there were no graphs or illustrations to support the points raised.

Most people who struggle with learning probably aren’t leveraging their best learning styles. The earlier you identify how your learning style can boost your success, the less struggle you will encounter with processing new information throughout your career.

However, visual learning in particular CAN 10x your career or business whether it is your preferred learning style or not. And here’s why:

Several studies have arrived at the conclusion that the brain retains more information with the help of visual aids. In other words, images are directly processed by our long-term memory which helps us store information for longer periods of time.[1]

While some lessons can be performed orally, several concepts can only make sense if you have an image with an explanation of sequences (i.e learning about the human DNA).

Visual learning does use a different part of the brain and visual cues are processed by the part of the brain known as the occipital lobe.

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By engaging more parts of the brain during learning, you’re able to have a fuller understanding of concepts and facilitate better interaction with your immediate environment.

How to Use Visual Learning for Success

Here’re 4 ways to use visual learning to boost your career or business:

1. Bring back the to-do list. Then add shapes and colors to boost productivity.

We live in an age where computers have taken over virtually every aspect of productivity and most human functions. But written lists are making a comeback, and with an endless number of important tasks to complete, having a to-do list of tasks in order of importance can improve your productivity.

While coming up with a list is initially challenging, adding colors and shapes to written lists that you personally write and manage gives you an extra layer of assurance and boosts aids recall so that you actually get stuff done.

I have tried this technique in my work as a registered nurse and discovered that adding shapes and colors to to-do lists helps me delegate tasks, recognize where more work is needed, and makes it easy to cross off completed tasks at the end of the day.

2. Add graphs, charts and symbols to your reports.

Yes, it seems like more work cut out for you. However, graphs enable you monitor the heartbeat of your business.

Graphs and charts help you trend your finances, budget, and pretty much any data overtime. With the help of free and premium software available on the market, it has become easier to take plain data and in a matter of seconds, have relevant information displayed in different shapes and images.

As an entrepreneur, you can make predictions and allocate funds wisely when you’re able to see whether your efforts are rewarded. You can use colors and charts to delegate actions to members of your team and track performance at the same time.

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And when broken down into monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual goals, graphs and charts communicate what ordinary text cannot.

3. Effectively brainstorm with mind-mapping.

Mind-mapping is not new but I don’t think it’s been talked about as often as we do to-do lists.

With mind mapping, you’re organizing information accurately and drawing relationships between concepts and pieces from a whole.

Think of a mind map as a tree with several branches. For example, the tree can symbolize healthcare while each branch stands for nursing, medicine, laboratory science, and so on. When you look at nursing, you can further branch out into types of nursing; pediatric, women’s health, critical care, and so on.

It’s an interesting relationship; the more ideas you’re able to come up with for your chosen subject, the deeper you get and the stronger the association.

Mind maps really show you relationships between subjects and topics, and simplifies processes that might seem complicated at first glance. In a way, it is like a graphical representation of facts presented in a simple, visual format.

Mind mapping isn’t only limited to career professionals; business owners can benefit from mind mapping by organizing their online learning activities and breaking down complex tasks into simple actions so that you can accurately measure productivity.

4. Add video streaming to meetings.

What if you could double the productivity of your team members by video streaming your meetings or adding flash animation to your presentation at the same time?

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When you offer video as an alternative method of processing information to colleagues, there is a greater chance of retaining information because we recreate these stories into images in our minds.

For organizations that hold virtual meetings, it can also be an effective way to enhance performance during if people can see their colleagues in addition to flash animation or whatever form of video is provided during the meeting.

Is Visual Learning Better Than Other Learning Styles?

No, that is not the point. The goal here is to supplement your existing dominant learning style with visual learning so that you can experience a significant boost in how you process and use everyday information.

You might discover that understanding scientific concepts are much easier after incorporating visual learning or that you’re able to understand your organization’s value when projected on a visual screen with charts and graphs.

The overall goal is to always be learning and to continue to leverage visual learning style in your career and business.

More About Learning Styles

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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