Horizontal Thinking

(reproduced from an article from Monday Morning Memo)

We are taught every subject in a vertically, narrow and deep manner. And the deeper one plunges into the subject, the narrower it gets. Specialization.

1a. Liberal Arts
1b. Literature
1c. Spanish Literature
1d. Spanish Literature of 1492-1681
1e. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
1f. Don Quixote de La Mancha by Cervantes (1605)
1g. Symbolism in Don Quixote

And then you write your master’s thesis:

1h. Sancho Panza as a Figurative Symbol in Don Quixote de La Mancha

Our educational system has taught us to value vertical, deductive reasoning. This is why our logic is so often binary: if-then, either-or, right-wrong. This is the logic of technology.

But vertical thinking is most powerful when augmented by a horizontal viewpoint since the lateral perspective will often spy answers that lie outside the vertical path.

Horizontal thinking will recognize a pattern it has seen, even when that pattern was observed in a completely unrelated field. (The cognoscenti will remember this technique as Business Problem Topology.) This “pattern recognition” often allows the horizontal thinker to correctly predict an outcome from what appears to be too little information.

Intuition is unconscious, horizontal thinking.

“Some people are unhappy about lateral [horizontal] thinking because they feel it threatens the validity of vertical thinking. This is not so at all. The two processes are complementary, not antagonistic. Lateral thinking enhances the effectiveness of vertical thinking by offering it more to select from. Vertical thinking multiplies the effectiveness of lateral thinking by making good use of the ideas generated.”
– Edward DeBono, author of 62 books on creative thought.

Purely horizontal thinking is known as daydreaming. Fantasy. Mysticism. The purely horizontal thinker has a thousand ideas but puts none of them into action. He or she sees the big picture and all its possibilities but has little interest in linear, step-by-step implementation.

Purely vertical thinking leads to compliance, conformity, and a false sense of knowledge. (False because it’s often just memorization in disguise. The student knows what to do without understanding why.) The purely vertical thinker is a nit-picker, a legalist, a tight-ass.

The healthy mind is capable of switching from vertical to horizontal thought and back again.

Problem solving is horizontal thinking adjusted by vertical analysis. But the implementation of that solution will require step-by-step, vertical action modified by horizontal adjustments as the need arises.

Read his books and you’ll recognize Lee Iacocca as a horizontal thinker who implements his ideas vertically.

Iacocca sees patterns, then takes sequential action to accomplish what he has seen in his mind.

“When you stop to think about it, most of the great companies of our times began as upstarts – little Davids taking on big Goliaths.” – Lee Iacocca, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? p. 159

Horizontal thought is how Iacocca rescued Chrysler from the brink of disaster. It’s how Peter Ueberroth organized the wildly successful Los Angeles Olympics and generated a surplus of 250 million dollars. It’s how Amazon.com and eBay came to be. It’s how the Prius and the iPod were born.

Srivyal Vuyyuri (www.sphoorti.org)

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