Lateral Thinking in Business Strategy

Lateral Thinking in Business Strategy

Paul Sloane 06/11/2023
Lateral Thinking in Business Strategy

Lateral thinking is a creative problem-solving approach that encourages thinking "outside the box" and exploring unconventional solutions.

When applied to business strategy, it can lead to innovative and game-changing ideas. Here are some ways to incorporate lateral thinking into your business strategy:

1. Challenge Assumptions: Encourage your team to question existing assumptions about your industry, market, and business processes. What if the rules were different?

2. Look for Cross-Industry Inspiration: Take a look for inspiration in industries completely unrelated to your own. How do they approach similar challenges?

3. Reverse Thinking: Instead of focusing on the ideal outcome, consider the opposite. What if your goal was to create the worst product or service possible, and then work backward from there?

4. Ask Provocative Questions: Ask unusual or provocative questions to stimulate new ideas. Questions that begin with "What if," "Why not," or "How might we" can be particularly effective.

5. Focus on Brainstorming Techniques: Leverage techniques like random word association, mind mapping, or the "six thinking hats" to encourage diverse perspectives and generate fresh ideas.

6. Use Analogies and Metaphors: Draw parallels between seemingly unrelated concepts to find novel solutions. What can your business learn from nature, art, or historical events?

7. Solve Contradictions: Identify contradictory elements in your business strategy and explore ways to reconcile them. Can you turn a weakness into a strength?

8. Have Random Stimuli: Introduce random stimuli, like images, objects, or unrelated news stories, and challenge your team to find connections to your business challenges.

9. Implement Scenario Planning: Develop multiple future scenarios, including extreme or unlikely ones, to prepare for unexpected changes and opportunities.

10. EmpowerCross-Functional Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between teams with diverse backgrounds and skill sets to foster a wider range of ideas.

11. Fail Forward: Embrace the idea that failures are opportunities for learning and growth. Encourage experimentation and risk-taking.

12. Apply a Customer-Centric Approach: View your business from the perspective of your customers, even if it means radically altering your current approach.

By incorporating lateral thinking into your business strategy, you can uncover new opportunities, solve complex problems, and stay ahead in an ever-evolving business landscape. It encourages innovation and creativity, helping your business stand out and adapt to changing circumstances.

How can you differentiate your business from the competition? Let’s look at some examples of lateral thinking in business strategy and innovation.

Nintendo Wii’s Motion Controls:

What radical feature can we add? Nintendo introduced a major innovation with motion controls in the Wii gaming console, revolutionizing the gaming industry. This approach was creative and unexpected, setting Nintendo apart from its competitors Sony and Microsoft.

Dyson’s Bagless Vacuum Cleaners:

What can we remove? Dyson disrupted the vacuum cleaner market by creating bagless vacuum cleaners, a concept that challenged the traditional vacuum design and improved performance. This innovation made Dyson a leader in the industry.

Warby Parker’s Online Try-Ons for Spectacles:

Warby Parker, an eyewear company, implemented a virtual try-on feature on their website, allowing customers to try on glasses online. This differentiated them from traditional brick-and-mortar opticians.

Tesla’s Over-the-Air Software Updates:

Tesla’s innovation was to remotely update and enhance the features of their electric vehicles through online software updates. It is a creative way to continually improve their product and customer experience, setting them apart in the automotive industry.

Airbnb’s “Experiences” Feature:

Airbnb expanded beyond accommodation by offering “Experiences” where users can book unique activities hosted by locals. This clever move diversified their platform and added a new dimension to the travel industry.

Red Bull’s Content Marketing and Extreme Sports Sponsorships:

Red Bull differentiated itself by producing extreme sports content and sponsoring events, associating the brand with adrenaline and adventure, setting itself apart in the crowded energy drink market.

Zappos’ Exceptional Customer Service:

Zappos built its brand by providing exceptional customer service, including free returns and a 365-day return policy, setting a new standard for online shoe retailing and differentiating itself from competitors.

Google’s “20% Time” for Employee Projects:

Google allowed employees to dedicate 20% of their work time to pursue personal projects, which led to innovative products like Gmail and Google News, demonstrating a creative approach to fostering internal innovation.

LEGO’s User-Generated Content Platform:

LEGO Ideas is an online platform where users can submit their own LEGO set designs. If a design receives enough votes, LEGO may produce and sell it, engaging the community and fostering creativity.

Smart companies sidestep their competitors by employing lateral thinking, innovating, exploiting technology, enhancing customer experiences, and diversifying their offerings.

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Paul Sloane

Innovation Expert

Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.

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