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Lateral Thinking

Pensamiento - El American

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[Leer en Español]

One of the most serious problems of the mind is to get used to thinking as if what is happening should always be that way. The questioning of what exists and the ability to ask oneself how it would be otherwise is unfortunately not common in educational settings. The questions of how, where, and equivalents are relevant, but the one that does the most to make things clear is why not?

This is relevant, for example we get stuck with huge state expenses without getting out of this quagmire due to the inability to imagine processes in which the private sector would be better at facing some of those governmental tasks and with more powerful natural incentives. At the moment, I am writing a new book entitled Vacas sagradas en la mira [Sacred Cows in Sight], which will be published this year by the Buenos Aires correspondent of Unión Editorial in Madrid, where I will try to explore lateral thinking.

What is this lateral thinking all about? It lies in an intellectual mechanism elaborated mainly by Edward de Bono, a graduate in Medicine and Psychology from Oxford and Cambridge. Since 1967, de Bono has explained in his books that the key to that thinking lies in looking at the information available from sides other than the usual ones. He suggests complementing vertical logic with lateral thinking.

He maintains that nothing is gained by digging deeper into the same well if the solution to the problem is found in the exploration of another well in a different place. He advises to always be attentive to the vision of innovation and thus to break with routine patterns and open the mind to new possibilities, even if at first they may seem to be crazy.

He remembers that thinking however deeply in one direction can never change the direction of thought. It is best to exercise alternative ways of posing the problem under study. And he insists on the gymnastics of provocative thinking and stimulating the gaze in a different manner than is usual for us. He concludes that without creativity there is no progress, all progress in any area arises as a consequence of a different and original vision.

He even extends his analysis to our need for happiness showing that we are pointed in the path of happiness when each one honors his/her own personality cultivating creative thoughts, thus feeding our own selves, as opposed to a suicidal surrender to those who represent a dangerous and devastating following of a Messiah or blindly led into group think. As Carlo Acutis lamented: “everyone is born an original, but many die as photocopies.”

One of the fundamental premises in the educational process consists of teaching to think, which requires transmitting the need of the critical spirit, in not taking anything for granted and investigating everything, chewing it, digesting it, and then arriving at one’s own conclusions, knowing that knowledge has the characteristic of temporariness, subject to refutation.

This line of argument’s enemy is memorization and repeating like a parrot what a supposed teacher says. In class, it is vital to exchange with students in the context of repeated invitations to look at the subject from different angles and perspectives.

On the first day of my classes, I repeat a line of thought that has been very successful throughout the semester: if what I say is not clear, interrupt me. If you disagree, discuss it, but if you think I am clear you agree, in principle, to play the devil’s advocate because this helps a lot to clarify issues that, when presented, may seem reasonable. Still, when the debate begins, it becomes clear that different aspects of the issue had to be polished.

On the other hand, it is especially relevant to emphasize that each person is unique and unrepeatable in humanity’s history. Hence, it is essential to stimulate each one’s potential and never to pretend to be unique in thought or to seek intellectual averages for which we need a climate of freedom, that is, of mutual respect. All authoritarian conceptions naturally conspire against knowledge, as well as against decency.

In this context, it is interesting to highlight the interdisciplinary exchanges’ fertility. Different viewpoints provide unexpected solutions to problems that specialists cannot solve precisely because they are part of a specialty. This is why different professions are usually hired to investigate the same problem.

In a tower building, architects were debating what to do when bottlenecks occurred at the elevator stops since there was no possibility of building new ones. Then the cleaning guy hit upon a solution. It was to place large mirrors as people were slow fixing themselves up.

It is not a serious argument to maintain that one must continue on with a certain governmental organization because it has always been done that way or because others do it that way. Although not exactly the same, this is equivalent to the nonsense of the reply to those that they insisted on abolishing the shame of slavery: those opposed expressing that it had been going on for thousands and thousands of years.

Alberto Benegas Lynch (h)

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