Why every team needs critical, lateral and creative thinkers

Oct 1, 2019

I have worked both in and with many teams over the last 20 years, some were successful, and others were not.  There was always one thing that seemed to stick out as an underlying factor to being successful – the outlook and balance of the team, the way it thought and therefore evaluated, prioritised and acted.


In my opinion, the element that was critical in defining success or failure was the ability to think differently and in particular, the ability to think critically, laterally and creatively about the situation in hand.  These three forms of thinking enabled the team to see and understand the facts, evaluate the implications then define, source and use the skills, knowledge and experience available.  This enabled them to be resourceful, diligent, engaging and highly competent in delivering the right outcomes, it ensured they were effective, efficient and successful.


In writing this article, I came across the following definitions for the three aforementioned thinking types:


  • Critical thinkingDisciplined thinkingthat is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.  Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximising the rationality of the thinker.  You do not use critical thinking to solve problems – you use critical thinking to improve your process of thinking”
  • Lateral thinkingSolving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic”
  • Creative thinkingA way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective that suggests unorthodox solutions”


In my view and experience, the three different types of thinking complement and stimulate each other.  Critical thinking encourages self-reflection and error proofing.  Lateral thinking ensures we are resourceful with what we have and realistic about what we need and when we need it.  Creative thinking provides the opportunity to think big and with total freedom.


If the three were to be described as an analogy, the best I can think of is that of a hot air balloon – critical thinking is the basket, lateral thinking is the balloon and the ropes that connect it to the basket and creative thinking is the hot air that inflates the balloon enabling it to rise.


Being aware of this enables me to identify the traits within people, understand and respect their motives and use their thinking appropriately and to the greatest effect.  Individually the three types of thinking are strong but limited and one sided. Collectively they are powerful and provide a comprehensive assessment of a situation and the course of action to take.


See if you can spot the traits of the three different types of thinking in your team – do you have the full complement?  How does this impact your team’s morale, engagement, capability, development and ultimately performance?