Careers and Employability Service



Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.

Steve Jobs

Lateral thinking, is the ability to think creatively, or "outside the box" as it is sometimes referred to in business, to use your inspiration and imagination to solve problems by looking at them from unexpected perspectives. Lateral thinking involves discarding the obvious, leaving behind traditional modes of thought, and throwing away preconceptions.

It's very important in careers such as advertisingmarketing, the media and art and design where you may get questions in the selection process along the lines of "Write down one hundred ways to use a brick/paperclip", but it can also be of value in the jobhunting process itself.

Lateral thinking in the jobhunting processRolls Royce

A number of graduates have tried the old and hackneyed methods of trying to gain the selector's attention, such as enclosing a tea bag with their application, so that the selector could take a break to have a cup of tea before reading it. Others have send their CV to newspapers in a magazine format, but below are a couple of truly original approaches:

A graduate had been trying to get into investment banking, but without success and had exhausted all the normal routes. As a last resort, he had 100 postcard-sized CVs printed. He then went round the "Square Mile" in the City, where all the main financial organisations in London are located and proceeded to place one of these CVs under the windscreen of every Rolls Royce and top of the range BMW and Mercedes he came across. Next day, he had several 'phone calls offering him interviews from the senior executives whom the cars belonged to. Note that we are not advocating this approach: one graduate jobseeker put up 200 poster sized CVs around Hull and ended up being fined for bill posting!

A student wanted to become a trainee journalist on her local newspaper. She decided to carefully analyse the content of the paper and compared it with similar local papers. She conducted a small survey of readers' opinions on the paper by interviewing passers-by in the city centre. Using this information, she drew up a list of possible changes to the paper, wrote a sample article to show what she had in mind and sent these to the editor. The editor invited her in to discuss her suggestions - they had a long discussion and the next vacancy that arose was offered to her without competition.

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt.

Edward de Bono

Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.

Edward de Bono

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.

Juan Ramón Jiménez

If people aren't calling you crazy, you aren't thinking big enough.

Richard Branson

One New York graduate who wished to work in a top advertising agency Googled the names of the creative directors of these agencies and then spent just six dollars on a set of Google ads that were triggered when the directors searched for their own names. The adverts said "Hey, (creative directors name), Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun, too" Of the five directors he targeted, four gave him an interview and two offered him a job

The chocolate bar CV. A job hunter made his CV as the wrapper for a chocolate bar. It turned out to be very popular with recruiters!

For more examples of lateral thinking in jobhunting see our Creative Careers Search page

and our Riddles test


Lateral Thinking Quiz

The following questions will test your ability to think laterally. If you get more than 50% of these right you're certainly strong on your lateral thinking skills (or maybe you're just good at quizzes!)

  1. A graduate applying for pilot training with a major airline was asked what he would do if, after a long-haul flight to Sydney, he met the captain wearing a dress in the hotel bar. What would you do?
    Jackie Stewart, three times World Champion Formula One racing driver had undiagnosed dyslexia and was unable to complete his school education. He said: “When you’ve got dyslexia and you find something you’re good at, you put more into it than anyone else; you can’t think the way of the clever folk, so you’re always thinking out of the box."
  2. A man built a rectangular house, each side having a southern view. He spotted a bear. What colour was the bear?
  3. If you were alone in a deserted house at night, and there was an oil lamp, a candle and firewood and you only have one match, which would you light first?
  4. What can you put in a wooden box that would make it lighter? The more of them you put in the lighter it becomes, yet the box stays empty.
  5. Which side of a cat contains the most hair?
  6. The 60th and 62nd British Prime Ministers of the UK had the same mother and father, but were not brothers. How do you account for this?
  7. How many birthdays does a typical woman have?

    "The fear of making a mistake, of risking an error, or of being told you are wrong is constantly with us. And that’s a shame. Making mistakes is not the same thing as being creative, but if you are not willing to make mistakes, then it is impossible to be truly creative. I f your state of mind is coming from a place of fear and risk avoidance, then you will always settle for the safe solutions—the solutions already applied many times before.

    Failing is fine, necessary in fact. But avoiding experimentation or risk—especially out of fear of what others may think—is something that will gnaw at your gut more than any ephemeral failure. A failure is in the past. It’s done and over. In fact, it doesn’t exist. But worrying about “what might be if…” or “what might have been if I had… ” are pieces of baggage you carry around daily. They’re heavy, and they’ll kill your creative spirit. Take chances and stretch yourself. You’re only here on this planet once, and for a very short time at that. Why not just see how gifted you are?"

    Daniel Garr - Presentation Zen

  8. Why can't a man living in Canterbury be buried west of the River Stour?
  9. Is it legal for a man to marry his widow's sister?
  10. If you drove a coach leaving Canterbury with 35 passengers, dropped off 6 and picked up 2 at Faversham, picked up 9 more at Sittingbourne, dropped off 3 at Chatham, and then drove on to arrive in London 40 minutes later, what colour are the driver's eyes?
  11. A woman lives on the tenth floor of a block of flats. Every morning she takes the lift down to the ground floor and goes to work. In the evening, she gets into the lift, and, if there is someone else in the lift she goes back to her floor directly. Otherwise, she goes to the eighth floor and walks up two flights of stairs to her flat. How do you explain this?
  12. A window cleaner is cleaning the windows on the 25th floor of a skyscraper, when he slips and falls. He is not wearing a safety harness and nothing slows his fall, yet he suffered no injuries. Explain.
  13. The band of stars across the night sky is called the "...... Way"?
  14. Yogurt is made from fermented ........
  15. What do cows drink? 

    I once visited a major pharmaceutical company to discuss their graduate recruitment for marketing. They told me that one of the key attributes they looked for was Helicopter Ability: the ability to soar above a problem and to see all aspects of it, to stand back and see the bigger picture, the wood rather than the trees. Creativity involves being able to think outside the box to find solutions to unpredictable problems. This needs logic and analysis, but also the ability to see the big-picture and this involves a creative mind.
  16. The Zorganian Republic has some very strange customs. Couples only wish to have female children as only females can inherit the family's wealth, so if they have a male child they keep having more children until they have a girl. If they have a girl, they stop having children. What is the ratio of girls to boys in Zorgania?
  17. How many hands does the clock of the tower of Big Ben have?
  18. John's mother has 3 children, one is named April, one is named May. What is the third one named?
  19. You are running in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you in? 
  20. In the same race, if you overtake the last person, then you are in what position? 

  21. Using just ONE straight cut, how can you cut a rectangular cake into two equal parts when a rectangular piece has already been removed from it? 
  22. A man and his son were in a car crash. The father was killed and the son was taken to hospital with serious injuries. The examining doctor exclaims: "But, this is my son!". 
    How can this be?
  23. You have to choose between three rooms. 
    The first is full of raging fires
    The second is full of tigers that haven’t eaten in 3 years. 
    The third is full of assassins with loaded machine guns.
    Which room should you choose? 

  24. Three of the glasses below are filled with orange juice and the other three are empty. By moving just one glass, can you arrange the glasses so that the full and empty glasses alternate?
    six glasses

  25. Name three consecutive days in English without using the words Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturdaynine dots
  26. What's unusual about this paragraph? Just how quickly you can find out what is so funny about it. It looks fairly ordinary and plain that you might think nothing is wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is highly curious though. Study it and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work at it a bit, you could just find out. 

  27. Join all the 9 dots on the right using four straight lines or less, without lifting your pen and without tracing the same line more than once. Do copy this onto paper if you wish to make it easier.






scented letter


One student, desperate to get into advertising, had been rejected by the main London agencies, so he decided to try a different approach. He bought some pink envelopes and a small bottle of expensive perfume. He placed his CV in the envelopes and wrote "Private" on the outside. He liberally sprinkled the envelopes with scent and posted them to the senior agency partner in several of the biggest agencies. When it arrived, nobody dared to open the letters and the graduate was offered several interviews - presumably for his daring. Note that, we don't recommend this approach!





Most of the above are what we call "Insight puzzles". Research bySchooler and Melcher (University of California) found that people who wrote down the puzzles and tried to solve them on paper were on average 30% less likely to come up with the right solution than those who didn't write it down and just solved them in their heads.

Writing down the puzzles invokes the use of the left side of our brain which deals with verbal and logical (algorithmic) reasoning, rather than the right side which deals with visual and creative (heuristic) thinking.

These puzzles tend to require creative rather than logical reasoning to solve them, so we need to use right brain thinking.

  1. Offer to buy her a drink! The captain was of course a woman. Many airlines are now hot on equal opportunities and a candidate who had difficulty envisaging that an airline captain might be female would not go very far!
  2. White. Only at the North Pole can all four walls be facing South.
  3. The match!
  4. Holes
  5. The outside
  6. Churchill was Prime Minister twice, from 1940 to 45 and from 1951 to 55.
  7. One
  8. Because he is still alive .
  9. No - because he's dead.
  10. The colour of your eyes.
  11. The woman is of small stature and couldn't reach the upper lift buttons.
  12. He was cleaning the inside of the windows.
  13. Milky Way
  14. MilkPicture of Big Ben
  15. Water. After the previous two questions, did you answer milk?
  16. About 1 to 1. Any birth will always have a 50% chance of being male or female.
  17. Eight: there are four faces to the clock of the tower of Big Ben (now officially called Elizabeth Tower). See the picture to the right.lateral thinking
  18. John
  19. If you overtake the second person then you become second.
  20. You can't overtake the last person in a race! Although one reader suggested that you can overtake the last person when you LAP them.
  21. Cut it horizontally half way up (i.e. parallel to the top) . See right. 
    Alternative answer provided by a reader of this page: the above answer in not the only correct answer, in fact, there are infinitely many correct answers. One of these correct answers is this: find the center of the cut portion of the cake (which is the point of intersection of the two diagonals) and also the center of the original cake (which, again, is the point of intersection of the two diagonals). Now a straight vertical cut along the centers will cut the remaining cake into two equal parts. This solution is perhaps better than the one above for the following reason: quite often the upper part of a cake is not the same as the lower part, as they contain different ingredients. For example, the upper part may have frosting, unlike the lower part.  My solution above 'guarantees' not only equal volumes, but also equal ingredients. 
  22. The doctor was his mother. Going full circle, this is very similar to the first question.
  23. The second room. Tigers that haven’t eaten in three years are dead!
  24. Pour the juice from the second glass into the fifth.
  25. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. One reader pointed out that Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day is equally correct.nine dots with answer
  26. The letter e doesn't appear once in the paragraph.
  27. Here is one possible solution. Of course you have to go beyond the boundaries of the square of dots to solve this. 
    Out of interest this particular puzzle is where the expression "to think outside the box" originally came from.


As several readers have pointed out, there may of course be other answers to some of these questions. What distinguishes the answers given above is that they are usually the SIMPLEST reasonable explanaton. As William of Occam is supposed to have said: "In explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary."


  • Over 23. You are a true lateral thinking Guru. Edward De Bono would be proud of you. Or maybe you are the man himself.
  • 20 to 23. Very good.
  • Under 12 - watch The Matrix, The Simpsons and Dr Who a few more times!


Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower

Steve Jobs (founder of Apple)

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”


The great composers did not set to work because they were inspired but became inspired because they were working.

Ari Kiev

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Edwin Land

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.

Albert Einstein

Inventions don’t come in Eureka moments: they are the consequence of experts absorbing themselves for so long in their field that they become pregnant with creative energy: deep immersion in an area of expertise.

Bounce, by Michael Syed

The final test!

Pick one of the following cards:

Card Trick

When you have chosen your card, focus carefully on it and keep it clearly in your mind for 15 seconds.

Once you have done this scroll down to the bottom of the page.





Here are some web sites which will allow you to take lateral thinking further.









Your card has been removed!


Card Trick

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The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7ND, T: +44 (0)1227 764000 ext. 3299

Last Updated: 06/04/2018