Early in my professional career, I stumbled across a set of writings that drastically challenged my beliefs and way of viewing the world. You see, I was an engineer – a very logical person with a highly tuned sense of critical thinking. In other words, very methodical and thorough in my thought processing.
If there was a bug in a piece of software or hardware, I would find it. If a piece of writing has a grammatical mistake – it will jump out to me (unless it’s my writing, in which case the errors regrettably go unnoticed). If a book or movie has a plot hole, it will be painfully apparent to me. Very rational, clear, data-driven thinking.
In fact, most people use some form of critical, analytic-based thinking as part of their cognitive awareness – it’s just that engineers tend to be more extreme.
Then I discovered Edward de Bono’s classic text, The Use of Lateral Thinking, and my world turned upside down.
The Curious World of Lateral Thinking
What is lateral thinking? It’s a form of problem solving using much more indirect and creative approaches that are not logically nor empirically obvious. In one of de Bono’s earliest exercises, he asks readers to place three drinking glasses on a table spaced out to form a triangle. Each glass is one vertex of the triangle.
The distance between each glass is slightly larger than the length of a dinner knife. Then, the reader is instructed to create a platform – on top of the three glasses – using only three identical dinner knives. And this platform must be able to support a full glass of water.
The solution – which is perfectly obvious in hindsight – can only be achieved through lateral thinking.
Getting Literally and Figuratively Unstuck
A more modern-day example of lateral thinking was introduced by Shane Snow in his terrific business book called Smartcuts.
Pretend you are driving a car in the middle of a thunderstorm and you happen upon three people on the side of the road. One of them is a frail old woman, who looks on the verge of collapse. Another is a friend who once saved your life. The other is the romantic interest of your dreams, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him or her. You have only one other seat in the car. Who do you pick up?
You can easily make a case for each one of the three: the elderly woman clearly needs help. Your friend did something incredibly heroic for you and is deserving of reciprocity. And the once-in-a-lifetime chance – never to happen again – to spend time with your dream partner is hard to pass up.
The obvious solution isn’t apparent using traditional critical thinking approaches. But with lateral thinking, it’s clear. You pick up the elderly woman and give the car keys to your friend. You stay behind with the romantic interest to wait for a Lyft.
Lateral thinking allows us to question the original assumptions on which a problem is based, following which an evident solution is revealed. As I began practicing lateral thinking, my skills not only as an engineer – but as a problem solver and creative idea generator – exploded.
Which brings us to the secret of learning A Course in Miracles. Lateral thinking and questioning the assumption on which the world is based.
A New Mindset
We think the world exists out there. Things happen in the world which affect us either positively, negatively, or not at all. We further believe that with hard work and perhaps a bit of luck we can achieve some degree of happiness. And finally, we believe that happiness is based on worldly elements: loving partner, healthy body, sufficient cash, comfortable environment, quality friends, societal status, good self-esteem, and positive reputation.
This thinking, what the course refers to as ego-thinking, will never allow one to learn A Course in Miracles, and will never lead to happiness. It isn’t until we’re willing to question the fundamental basis of our ego thought system that everything changes.
To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. Everything you see is the result of your thoughts. There is no exception to this fact.
Lateral thinking allows us to choose a different mindset, what the course refers to as right-minded thinking. From such a perspective, we realize that our thoughts make up the world we see – not the other way around. The Course goes on to say:
There is no point in trying to change the world. It is incapable of change because it is merely an effect. But there is indeed a point in changing your thoughts about the world. Here you are changing the cause. The effect will change automatically.
And once we begin practicing lateral [right-minded] thinking, not only do we quickly learn A Course in Miracles, but the path to true happiness is clearly revealed and instantly experienced.
Solving the Challenge
By changing the way we think – which is the result of switching from our ego-mind to our right-mind – we see the world differently. Problems are no longer seen as obstacles and are easily circumvented.
Join me in our upcoming live, online video class where we’ll explore these concepts, the nature of mind, and how we can master the habits of living the life we want. And, of course, I’ll show you how to use lateral thinking to solve the glasses-and-knives problem. I look forward to seeing you then.