Lateral thinking is the ability to see across many disciplines/areas and piece things together into a winning idea. For example, Uber put together the frustration that consumers had with taxis with the abilities that smartphones and GPS had to connect people and gig workers who were more than happy to drive strangers around for money. All of those things were, at the time, disparate and didn't seem to logically fit together. So I'm going to connect with a random person and get into their car???
Disparate thinking is a critical skill as the world gets more and more disrupted. Barriers to enter are lowering. Things like eCommerce are growing rapidly. Demographic trends are shifting as current minorities will be in the majority in the US in the coming decades. Being aware of what is happening is important to stay ahead.
You are not born with lateral thinking ability. It's something that is nurtured over time. The most successful people in the world seem to have it, which is why I believe it is so critical.
Warren Buffett reads hundreds of pages a day of books and newspapers. The books allow him to have a strong understanding of history and macro trends. Newspapers/magazines allow him to stay on top of all the current events. His grasp of both allow him to see what is happening and adjust his investments accordingly.
Steve Jobs had an incredible gift to laterally think across computer technology and design aesthetics. Elon Musk is doing this in multiple ways across vehicles and space. He is seeing that now is the time where battery technology is powerful enough to be used effectively in cars. He is also seeing the technology to go to space is within reach of a private company versus NASA needing billions of dollars from the government.
The list is VERY long of successful people who have used lateral thinking in order to reach phenomenal success.
I have just recently seen the light in this area. I was never a voracious reader. I wasn't very interested in the financial services industry I was in after college, so preferred playing pickup basketball than studying up in my free time.
Now that I like the industries I'm in (CPG marketing and apparel) I have come to totally enjoy immersing myself in it and trying my best to give myself the opportunity to become a lateral thinker. Here are my steps.
Read: Books provide such an incredible opportunity to learn about pretty much anything. Books give you a great base on which to build your lateral thinking skills. World History. Business History. Biographies. Marketing Principles. Digital Disruption. Corruption/Greed. Self-Improvement. Productivity. It's endless. I personally prefer audiobooks because I can read them almost at anytime. I read while commuting, working out, walking the dog, grocery shopping, in between meetings and whenever I have 15 minutes of downtime. I also read at 1.75X to 2X speed. This allows me to read from 3 to 5 books every week.
Classes: Classes allow you to go deep into topics. This is important for the topics you are most interested in and want to get to an expert level in. LinkedIn Learning is great. For a few hundred dollars a year you have access to THOUSANDS of courses. That's a good investment. I have recently taken classes in AI/Machine Learning, Data Science, Product Management, Disruptive Innovation and Leadership. I consider those all core areas I need to know and need to be expert in. I do many of these classes in audio form, as well. I can knock out a full course in a few days.
Newsletters: I try to stay away from news sites like CNN. They have current events, but I feel like much of the news is sensationalized and actually brings you down. They want you to click on things, so the news they highlight often is over the top stuff that pulls at your emotions. It can be a rabbit hole and not offer a ton of benefit for you personally. I like newsletters like 2PM. That is an eComm focused on that comes 3 times a week. It is curated by an expert in the industry, so you given the cream of the crop articles. He does the searching for you! I also read Morning Brew, Marketing Brew and Retail Brew. All newsletters focused on my industry and short in length to allow me to understand what's going on without spending hours reading.
Listen to People: People are fascinating and can be a wealth of knowledge. Sadly, many people end up talking more than they listen and miss out on the learning they can get from others. People have a bad habit of needing to prove themselves and educating others on their greatness. That helps your ego, but doesn't help your learning. I love asking questions and learning from others. You never know what someone will bring up that will connect. You never know who knows someone that can be of help. I have met critical visual designers, web designers, lawyers, logistics companies, media experts, etc, etc....all through relatively random conversations that turned into something that I could leverage. Since people like people who listen, then I was seen as someone worth helping.
If you enjoy learning and getting better, than the above should be exciting. It's been a great growth experience for me. I hope this is helpful to you!