Lateral thinking revisited

The authors of the first chapter of the Bible described God’s command to mankind in Genesis 1:28: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Now, three thousand years later, we fulfilled it and called this new era the Anthropocene. Humans have become the most important influencing factor of nature. This can be seen in climate change, the exploitation of natural resources, pollution, or the interplay of all human influences. A recent example is dealing with the Corona pandemic. While in former times, the pest, the Black Death, and the Spanish flu originating in the United States resulted in countless deaths. We apparently look at the current epidemic as a leadership problem that has to be controlled with appropriate measures. The single-track attempt to prevent the spread through efforts to reduce it, without considering the unintended consequences, e.g., society, the economy, health, education, and the environment, leads to collateral damages not yet foreseeable. And promptly citizens form up to resist – despite all resistance at a social distancing.

In contrast to other demonstrations of the extreme right- and left-wing groups, these people come from the middle of society. In the past, the public has referred to this new group with the rather negative connoted term Wutbürger (angry citizens), derived from Gutbürger (good citizens). In the wake of the resistance to the federal government’s pandemic regulations, these compatriots refer to themselves as Querdenker (lateral thinkers). This term, which has a positive connotation, lowers the inhibition of hitherto inactive fellow citizens from the center of society to participate in the actions. Let us take a closer look at this term.

  • The previous use of Querdenken (Divergent Thinking)
    Edward de Bono published the book Lateral Thinking in While applying the associated creativity techniques, the German term querdenken has become an accustomed idea. In lateral thinking, in contrast to analytical thinking, facts are considered intuitively. Any associations are allowed, and instead of clear yes/no decisions, PO is used. In lateral thinking, everything is questioned, and nothing is taken for granted. In routines, lateral thinkers are not much wanted, as they disrupt the predetermined proceeding. In the meantime, many companies understood that lateral thinking opens up uncommon perspectives that offer valuable exits from undesired circumstances.
  • The meaning of quer (cross)
    The Duden, the German OED, describes quer (cross) as 1) perpendicular to a line assumed to be long, and 2) running obliquely from side to side, from one end to the other (e.g., diagonal, hyper angular). This creates a rather negative meaning: disrupting and defeating intentions, resisting, not as desired. Such people complain unnecessarily and insist stubbornly on their supposed rights. Only in conjunction with thinking, a positive interpretation emerges: people who think independently and inventively and whose ideas and views are often not understood or accepted.
  • The Meaning of denken (thinking)
    We speak of thinking when we start using the mind. For this purpose, the world must be perceived, integrated into our conceptions, and the conclusions transformed into propositions that become actions. Since thinking is a personal, inward-looking activity, the limits of one’s thought patterns are reluctantly exceeded. And this is precisely where lateral thinking comes in. By breaking with existing beliefs, new solutions are found and incorporated into existing ideas. For this purpose, other ways of solving problems are consciously used: e.g., by changing the perspective, over- or understatement, the use of coincidences and differences, and changing the basic conditions.
  • The Inappropriateness of Appropriation
    Since de Bono, the positive interpretation catches on primarily in identifying problems and developing solutions. In the wake of the current pandemic, a movement of troublemakers took possession of the term. They are demonstrating against Corona as if it were arbitrary government action. Simultaneously, the politicians are trying to stop the spread of the virus due to the population’s lack of insight and personal responsibility by, for example, distancing rules (keep your distance; observe hygiene rules; wear everyday masks). The fun society reacts promptly and complains that it is no longer allowed to indulge in its pleasures – no large events, no travel, no shopping. Thus, the protest is directed against the protective measures, although they protect even the undiscerning. Next, they will take it to the streets against lack of vaccine, then select the vaccine, and finally against mandatory vaccination. If there were no federal government action, they would complain when there are not enough beds and doctors available. To bundle this unreasonableness and delusion under the term lateral thinker damages this valuable approach for finding solutions.

Bottom line: The reuse of the term lateral thinker by protesters against protective measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany is ill-fated. Admittedly, this makes their resistance appear as a solution-oriented protest. However: practical proposals for a solution are missing. Quite the contrary. The activities promote the spread by the large events without minimum distance and masks. Obviously, citizens complain about the pandemic as if it were something that an administrative act can abolish. Putting this under the title lateral thinkers is inappropriate because the second half of the word is missing. There are no practical suggestions, people promote the spread by refusing to follow the distancing rules and irritate the rest of the population by spreading conspiracy theories and dangerous fake statements. As a result, the term lateral thinker loses its positive connotation. Too bad.