7 Lateral Thinking Questions to Promote Out-of-the-Box Thinking

lateral thinking questionsThe term “lateral thinking” was coined in 1967 by physician and inventor Edward de Bono, to describe a kind of out-of-the-box reasoning and critical analysis of scenarios that call for more than just typical step-by-step logic to solve. Lateral thinking is related to creative problem solving and critical thinking, all valuable skills to have, and applicable to more than just creative or scientific endeavors.

So how do you improve your creative problem solving skills? Simply review the lateral thinking questions in this guide and refer to the very end of the article for answers. When we examine lateral thinking questions and scenarios, we’re forcing our minds to think critically about things that we might otherwise dismiss or fail to understand completely. In these challenges, our critical thinking strengthens.

For more, check out this critical thinking and problem solving course, and this guide on specific problem solving skills and how to acquire them.

What is Lateral Thinking?

Before we dive into the lateral thinking questions, it’s important to know exactly what lateral thinking is, and how it differs from critical thinking. While lateral thinking is certainly “critical,” as a specific train of thought, it is not the same as what we call “critical thinking.”

According to de Bono himself, while critical thinking is about examining the pieces in play in any given scenario, lateral thinking is about rejecting the “status quo” of ideas and conceiving entirely new ways of looking at a problem. It’s about bringing new pieces into the puzzle, rather than just working with what you have. You can check out this course on thinking outside the box for more detail.

If you’re looking for a guide on critical thinking, check out this course, or refer to this guide on critical thinking exercises.

Lateral Thinking Questions

Think about what we learned above as you consider the lateral thinking questions below. Each question will have a corresponding answer at the end of this article, where we’ll briefly explain how the thinking required to solve each scenario is uniquely “lateral.”

  • Lateral Thinking Question #1

Someone falls out of a thirty story building, but lives. With luck and their landing pad not being factors, how could they have survived the fall?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #2

There are a dozen eggs in a carton. Twelve people each take a single egg, but there is one egg left in the carton. How?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #3

A boat has a ladder that’s ten feet long, and hangs off the side of the boat, with its last two feet submerged in water. If the ocean tide rises five feet, how much of the ladder will be underwater?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #4

There are ten birds perched on a fence. A farmer aims his rifle and shoots one. How many birds are left?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #5

What weighs more – 100 pounds of feathers, or 100 pounds of quarters?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #6

Which countries have the 4th of July out of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada?

  • Lateral Thinking Question #7

If you were alone in a dark cabin, with only one match and a lamp, a fireplace, and a candle to choose from, which would you light first?

Lateral Thinking Questions: Answers

Answer #1

The person fell out of the first-story window. A critical thinker might try to identify possible landing pads that would allow survival of a thirty-story fall, but the lateral thinker will realize that the story did not specify what floor the person fell out of. They can safely, within the logic of the story, conclude that the person fell out of a ground floor window.

Check out this course on creative problem solving for more on this type of logic.

Answer #2

The last person took the carton with the egg inside. This question challenges our ability to break outside of patterns, and introduce concepts not provided in the context of the story. Since everyone else in the story takes a single egg, the last person taking the whole carton is a new, but not impossible, scenario that the lateral thinker must conceive.

Answer #3

Two feet. If the ocean rises, so will the boat, and the amount of ladder under the water will remain the same. A critical thinker might be tempted to work out the math in this obvious trick question, but a lateral thinker will spot the attempt at misconstruction.

Want more tips to promote lateral thinking? Check out Flavors of Thought, a fresh thinking course for more ideas on thinking outside the box.

Answer #4

One – the dead bird that the farmer shot. This is another trick question. Some people might want to answer seven, since the farmer only shot one bird, while others might want to twist the story and suggest the farmer indirectly killed the others while just firing a single bullet. The correct answer is one, because after the farmer fires a single shot, the other birds fly away, startled.

Answer #5

They weigh the same – 100 pounds. This question is meant to trick the uncritical and unobservant listener from thinking that the material of the object affects its weight, even if there are 100 pounds of each.

Answer #6

They all have the 4th of July.  This question is a trick that will likely work only on Americans, since in the United States, the “4th of  July” is a holiday also known as Independence Day. Their first train of thought when hearing  “4th  of July” will likely equate it with the holiday, making the easy answer “the United States.” Really, all countries “have” the 4th of July, since it’s just another day on the calendar.

Answer #7

You would light the match first. Without it, you couldn’t light any of the other appliances. This is another question that encourages the thinker to break free of assumed patterns and think outside the box.

Check out this course on “whole brain thinking” to maximize your critical, analytical, and lateral thinking potential.

If you’re interviewing for a technology company, you might be asked lateral thinking questions to supplement questions on your engineering background. Check out this course on how to prepare for an interview, and this critical thinking academy course for tips on solving tough, lateral thinking questions.