There are several ways of defining lateral thinking, ranging from the technical to the illustrative.
1. “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper”
This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed.
2. “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions”
With logic you start out with certain ingredients just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then ‘process’.
3. “The brain as a self-organising information system forms asymmetric patterns. In such systems there is a mathematical need for moving across patterns. The tools and processes of lateral thinking are designed to achieve such ‘lateral’ movement. The tools are based on an understanding of self-organising information systems.”
This is a technical definition which depends on an understanding of self-organising information systems.
4. “In any self-organising system there is a need to escape from a local optimum in order to move towards a more global optimum. The techniques of lateral thinking, such as provocation, are designed to help that change.”
This is another technical definition. It is important because it also defines the mathematical need for creativity.