The Hidden Advantages of the Unexpected Opportunity

Completing our series on Lateral Thinking (LT) and the art of generating ideas we will develop the fourth step according Edward De Bono’s scheme:

  1. Identify the dominant or polarizing concepts.
  2. Search new ways to focus problems.
  3. Relax the rigid control of vertical thinking.
  4. Use of chance luck or opportunities.

In this forth and post about the Lateral Thinking (LT) we will talk about how to take advantage of chances of luck. According Edward De Bono this is the last step in the process of LT.

As we discussed in our previous article, the Vertical thinking (VT) based on logic doesn´t allow any room for chance. Every step is thought out in an ideal control bubble (which in reality will explode). But history is full of unexpected discoveries that appear as a hint of destiny. We can use these “chances” to make leaps on the problem solving process, but only if we are open to expect the unexpected and pay attention to non related situations or new points of view, even if they are not from fields not related to our own. This implies an open mindset and a passive state of observation/hearing alert to gather information that can be used in the future. Steve Jobs took a calligraphy course in the university (without knowing the use for it) and years later he took that knowledge to structure the basic set of fonts would become the standard in the computer software industry. So you never really know where your intuitiveness comes from unless you are willing to think outside of the box!


Question: How can we use luck for our benefit? Well the trick is to be prepared in a way we can see the opportunity coming. One famous stroke of luck was the discovery of penicillin. According to the popular knowledge, Alexander Fleming noticed by accident bacteria was not growing surrounding a fungus known as Penicillium notatum and voila! The antibiotic era started. What is not too well-known is that Fleming was determined since his youth to become a doctor. The study of bacterial infections and his discovery was not just a casual observation, it happened in the course of a deep investigation to contain bacterial infections. The unexpected situation happened during the process and with an agent that was not part of the research but Fleming was alert enough to take note of the situation and tried to go further with limited success. Years later another research team took his notes and developed the chemical procedure that gave us the first stable penicillin shot. How is that for luck!

So to have luck on our side, we must train ourselves to pay attention in a different ways than we are used to, like watching things or making question we usually don´t when we are in working or even routinely domestic tasks as taking the car to the shop or groceries. The VT trained us to concentrate excluding anything not related with the problem but this procedure blocks us from generating new ideas because excludes any external influence which could allow us to see the problem in a new way.


Then we can use the mechanics of simple things, like gaming, on a daily basis to learn to observe and gather information. Why will the “game” help us?

  1. The apparently futileness of the game give us the freedom to interrelation random events and learn how this connect between each other.
  2. During the game ideas show up by itself and without a logical order and we can take notes to have a stock of ideas (maybe too much of them) which we can discard later through the vertical thinking.
  3. We can find useful ideas related with other issues and store them for the future.

Another way to stimulate the casual interaction of ideas is using the good old “brain storm” method, the interaction between colleagues can provide a soup that could not happen by one single member of the team. This interaction must be done without rational inhibitions and no thought should be discarded or considered irrelevant in that stage.


A useful technique to wake up to new ideas is to be exposed to a rich variety of stimulus such as:

  • Professional conventions
  • A cozy walk in a big store
  • Even a book fair

We are not looking at something specific; we are training ourselves to grab big pictures without permitting our logic sense to start discarding issues, while learning to grasp information.

Another very well-known way to stimulate ideas and creativity is by thinking for a moment on another issue not related with our main problem. However, it´s a lot more effective to let the external influences manifest and alter the rigidity of our rational process to provide us a new light in the problem while we are analyzing it. The first option only allows avoiding the routine, but second is forcing us to overcome it a reach a new perspective.

Has this series on Lateral Thinking helped you in any way to reach a new perspective or idea for your business? Please share your comments. Thanks for reading!

Javier Dominguez – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc.