Making Our Teams Brighter by Promoting Debates and Thinking Styles Plurality

Apr 05, 2022

Many of the problems we face in business require a logical, straightforward thinking style, but many others are the complete opposite; they can only be solved by thinking outside of the box, by being creative. 

Successful teams need both types of thinkers, those straight-to-business, logical, vertical thinkers, and the dreamers, the creative, unorthodox, lateral thinkers. 

Today, we delve into the essence of vertical and lateral thinking. We analyze how to incentivize our teams to practice both styles and why it is essential to have a balanced mixture of vertical and lateral thinkers. In addition, we explore the differences between being a multiplier or a diminisher leader, multiplying our team members' voices, or shutting them down at meetings. We touch on promoting rigorous debates within our teams to promote growth and thought-provoking ideas. 

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • A discrepancy in how we think is necessary to promote growth (2:31)
  • The riddle of the old lady and the elevator (6:49)
  • How vertical and lateral thinkers get to conclusions (11:26)
  • About what we can do as leaders to multiply our teams' voices (14:43)
  • The differences between being a debate promoter and a decision-maker (16:51)
  • It is our responsibility as leaders to create a safe space where our team feels free to share their thoughts (22:14)


  • Quote: Benjamin Franklin - "If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking."
  • Lateral Thinking Puzzles
  • Quote: Edward de Bono - "The vertical thinker says: 'I know what I am looking for.' The lateral thinker says: 'I am looking, but I won't know what I am looking for until I have found it."
  • Book: Liz Wiseman - Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter 
  • Quote: Liz Wiseman - "Rigorous debate doesn't break down a team; it builds them and makes the team stronger."
  • Coaching with Clint Consultation Call - Book Here
  • Download my free One-on-One Transformation tool

Let's Connect!


Clint Hoopes: The vertical thinker says, “I know what I am looking for.” The lateral thinker says, “I am looking, but I won't know what I am looking for until I have found it.” 

Welcome to the Flavor of Leadership podcast. For those of you that are brand new to the show, welcome, so excited you decided to join us. As you're listening to the podcast today, I ask you to listen to your thoughts, listen to the insights that come as you are listening. We're going to share quotes and stories and thoughts with you. And undoubtedly, as you're listening, you're going to think about something from your own life, from your own business, from your own employees, from your own children. Take the insights that you hear inside your own head and apply them to your life. Now, if you don't record them, you don't write them down, you don't make a plan to act; listening to the show won't do much for you. If you want the insights you receive to change your life, you need to record them and make a plan to act. So, be prepared, as you're listening, to write those things down. And take those things and help improve your own life and the life of your employees and all those around you. Today, we are going to be speaking about thinking. So, it's all about your thoughts and thinking today, and the thoughts and the way that your people think in your life – primarily your team at work. 

I love this quote by Benjamin Franklin – he said this: “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” Today, we're actually going to talk about two different types of thinking because there are a lot of different ways to define thinking. And depending on who you're talking to, depending on the context, there will be different ways to define this. But today, we're just going to talk about two types: vertical thinking and lateral thinking. So, vertical thinking is logical thinking. It's where you go from, basically, the obvious, logical answers, the logical way. So, you're going straight to the obvious, straight to the logical, and just going step by step down the path in a very logical order. So, vertical thinking equals logical thinking, essentially, simplified. Lateral thinking, on the other hand, is a little bit different. Lateral thinking requires more creativity, that's the reason that often lateral thinking is the basis behind many riddles and puzzles and things that way as well because you have to think a little more creatively. It's a little bit different. It's not quite so logical. It does have logic in a way, in that things can make sense, but it's very lateral. It’s kind of around, it's different, it's not straight to the point, it's not obvious. It's not that type of logical. So, vertical thinking is more logical, lateral thinking requires a little more creativity. So, let's talk about why you would want both types of thinking because they're both incredibly important to your business and to your team – you have to have both types.

As I was thinking about lateral thinking today, it actually reminded me of my past. It reminded me of back when I was in high school. So, back in high school, I remember there was a group of people, and it started out with just a couple of us, honestly. A friend had brought a little puzzle book, I believe, a lateral thinking puzzle book to school. And in between classes, he told us one of the puzzles and then told us the answer and we're like, “Okay, that's a little different.” Because lateral thinking puzzles are different; they're not logical. Like I was saying, they're more like a riddle. And so we started saying, “Give us another one, but don't tell us the answer yet.” Then we'd go to class a few classes and come back and be like, “All right, I think it’s this.” He’d be like, “Nope, you're wrong.” And we'd guess and talk around until we could figure them out. And we just had a ton of fun. And we got to the point where we went from just a handful of us to a huge group of people that were doing these lateral thinking puzzles. We were getting puzzle books and all types of things, and sharing them, and it was a ton of fun actually. We really did, we had a ton of fun and got a lot of people involved. Sometimes we would go minutes or hours between finding out the answer to a puzzle or figuring it out, and other times we would go days without knowing the answer to a puzzle because they’d give it to us and we're like, “No, we do not want to know the answer. We want to figure this out ourselves.” And so we had a lot of fun with these lateral thinking puzzles. 

So, I believe, this puzzle that I'm about to share with you, I think it will help to give you a little understanding of what lateral thinking means – how it's not normal logic. So, here's an example of the type of puzzle we would have shared back in high school, a lateral thinking puzzle. So, here we are, and there's actually a link in the show notes to this puzzle and about 49 others that are very similar. So, if you got a kick out of it and think it's fun, go ahead, go check it out, there's a link in the notes for this and a bunch of more puzzles for you. So, here we go. This is where it starts. So, start thinking about this and see if you can get the answer. And after I read it, you can pause, if you want, a little bit so you can figure it out. But like I said, it's a little bit different. Here we go: An elderly woman lives on the 35th floor and hates taking the stairs. Every day, she takes the elevator down to the lobby floor to go to work. When she comes home from work, she takes the elevator to the 25th floor and walks the rest of the way up, except on the days when it rains. Those days, she takes the elevator all the way home. Why does she walk the last 10 flights of stairs if she hates it so much? All right, think about that for a minute. Why does she take the elevator only to the 25th floor and walk the last flights up every day except for when it rains? 

All right, so here's the answer for you. The elderly woman is too short to reach the button for the 35th floor. She can only reach the 25th-floor button. On days when it rains, she uses her umbrella to hit the button for the 35th floor. So, you can see how the logic works, how it's a little bit different – it does work, it makes sense. It helps you see the reasoning behind the actions. Why that would be? And there are clues to help you find the real answer using logic. You would have come up with completely different answers to this puzzle. There would be all kinds of different things that you might come up to think of logically, why it wouldn't work. Like you would think, “Oh, well, maybe the button is broken.” Well, that doesn't work because on the days that it rains, she can actually get it. And you'd have to go down a little different path. And so the reality is using logic is a part of thinking laterally, you have to do both, but it's just a little bit different take, a little bit different twist. Many of these puzzles are even more ridiculous and they can drive you crazy. 

But the reality is, we need both types of thinking to solve difficult problems. In business, problems are not always logical. You don't always know exactly why things are happening the way they're happening. And you don't often know the solution to problems; you have to try different types of things – logical doesn't always work. So, Edward de Bono – he is one of the ones who helped popularize the term “lateral thinker.” He has a lot of books from the past. And he shared this: “The vertical thinker says, ‘I know what I am looking for.’ The lateral thinker says, ‘I am looking, but I won't know what I am looking for until I have found it.’” So, a little bit different twist on things. The vertical thinker knows what they're looking for and they're searching for it. Lateral thinking is they're looking for it, but they won't quite know until they've found it – a little more creative way to get to a solution. So, one place that I think of with vertical thinking – the more logical thinking – and in lateral thinking – the more creative thinking – one place this is so true, this is so important for your team is in escape rooms. So, if you have not done the escape room, you're missing out, you need to go do an escape room, they're popping up all over the place. I'm sure you've seen one in your own town somewhere. And if you haven't, you should go find one. They are a ton of fun. We have done them with teams from work. I have done them with family. And there are some interesting things that have come out of an escape room about how well your team works together, but also how your team thinks. So, escape rooms have all kinds of different puzzles and riddles and different things you have to figure out. And they are a mix of very lateral thinking, very different, very difficult to figure out – but also logical puzzles mixed in as well, and you don't know which are which. So, you have to think all different ways and you need all different types of people to figure it out. That's why it makes them so difficult. 

So, I have done a few escape rooms in the past. And I have done them with some absolutely brilliant people. And I'm telling you, I hit one of the times where I was with a group that was so smart. I mean, so smart. But here's the deal: they were mostly all logical, vertical thinkers, almost the entire group. And I'm telling you when we did the escape room, we had an hour time limit on the escape room, and we barely got out, by the skin of our teeth, with a minute or two left. And I'm telling you, it was so much more difficult because we had so many more logical thinkers that felt like they knew the way it was supposed to go through. But the problem was, their style of thinking was completely different. A few months back, on the other hand, we did an escape room – a pretty difficult escape room, generally – with my extended family, my wife’s side. And we had a wide group of people. I mean, there were very, very different ages, different backgrounds, all of those things were there. So, it was very diverse and way different ages. And I'm telling you, we went in there and we absolutely killed it. It was so fun. I mean, from face value, you would have thought that one of my other groups from work would have been way more equipped to be able to get through one of these faster. But we had some great vertical thinkers and lateral thinkers in our group, a great mix that worked together. And we ended up setting a record for the fastest time out of the room by a big margin – all because we had a great mix of people that were completely different types of vertical and lateral thinkers. 

So, how do we apply this to our work? Who do you have on your team or working on projects with you? Do you have the right people? You need people with different skill sets, but you also need people that have different thinking skill sets. You need people that think logically, but you also need people that have this lateral thinking. So, when you think about your own team or people you have gathered together on a project, are you all the same? When you’re putting together your team or putting together your team for a project, did you gather people that were more like you? Are all of you thinking more of the same? And in your meetings, maybe you do have some people that naturally think more laterally. Do you welcome different types of thinking in your meetings? And you may think, “Well, of course, we do. We give everyone a chance to think.” But think about your actions in the meetings, think about the ways who you call on and who speaks up and who doesn't speak up? And how the flow of the meeting goes? Are you doing things that may cause them not to speak up and you don't even realize it? I know I have done that in the past. And it took me having another member of the team come and actually tell me, “Hey, do you realize that these couple people never speak up?” It made me realize that I was doing some of the things we're going to talk about here in a minute that were causing some of these people not to speak up and give their input. Input that would have been, not only great for the discussion and for them to feel part of the team, but it would have changed the actual trajectory of our organization and our decisions that we're making. They would have been better decisions, better direction if we had everyone's input. 

So, this takes me to a thought from the book Multipliers. So, Multipliers is a book by the author, Liz Wiseman. And Liz Wiseman is fantastic, she talks about multipliers versus diminishers. And so, in short, I have a couple of other podcasts that have talked about this book, if you want a little more detail, you can find those. But multipliers, in essence, are those leaders that get the most out of their people. So, they actually multiply the abilities of their people by the way that they lead. People believe they have a certain capacity, and they help expand that and make it even greater, they get more out of people than they even thought was possible. Now, diminishers, on the other hand, they actually get less out of their people than the people are capable of. And not just a little less, generally, a lot less than the people are capable of. Those are diminishers. And there are lots of ways you can be a multiplier or diminisher. But today, we're just going to talk about one of the ways. Now, one way that you can be a multiplier is to be a debate maker. And one way you can be a diminisher is a decision-maker. And this is involved in your discussions, and when you're having discussions as a group and thinking and planning together. So, let's start with the negative one, the diminisher. This is the decision-maker. So, they are someone that they'll engage in a select inner circle in the decision-making process, and then they'll just make a decision. They won't bring in the other parties. They don't want to hear it. They feel like, “Yeah, I can do this. I'm good. Let's move on.” Obviously, sometimes, some decisions do need to be made quickly. So, we're talking about big strategic decisions here. So, at a time where you really should involve more people, it's a process that needs more input. They are not doing it, they're just making a decision and moving on. Because you think decision-maker, you think, “That's a good thing. People need to make decisions. Leaders are decision-makers.” That is true. But one step better than engaging a few people to make a decision, the best way to make a great decision and to have great buy-in from your people is to be a multiplier. And that is a debate maker.

So, Liz Wiseman says this: “A debate maker accesses a wide spectrum of thinking in a rigorous debate before making decisions.” Now, there are a few different pieces there that are important. The wide spectrum of thinking – so, a lot of different types of people. And this is where I'm going to say vertical thinkers and lateral thinkers. Also, people that may disagree with you, on different topics. People that have completely different experiences, you want to bring those people in to get a wide spectrum of thinking. And so the next part is, he says, “Before making decisions, you need to have a rigorous debate.” So, some people think of rigour, or they see someone have a rigorous debate, and they look at it and they think, “Oh, it's so contentious or fighting.” They think of it as something negative, instead of realizing that rigorous debate is pushing back in a safe environment, back and forth, in order to understand – not to push your own agenda as much to expand your understanding. So, we need to have this type of rigorous debate in order to be a great leader, a multiplier, and to make the best decisions for our operations. 

So, what type of rigorous debate does your team have? Is it rigorous? Because rigorous would really include having the entire group speak up, not just a handful people. So, think about your experience. Do you have one or two people that dominate the conversation? You might be one of them. Or others on your team that dominate the conversation and others are rarely, if ever, heard. Is that describing your team? Does that happen? If you can't quite remember how people participate, pay attention the next time and see how it goes, who doesn't speak up, and why don't they speak up? Is it the way you're leading the meeting or is it the way other people are interacting? Do you encourage different viewpoints or different opinions? Or when a different viewpoint or opinion is brought up, do you quickly move on to something else if it doesn't agree with what you previously thought? It can be uncomfortable, as the leader, leading a discussion when someone takes it down a path that you're not sure of. And you can speak your mind as well as a leader. But you also have to be careful that when you speak your mind as the leader, people often take it as the gospel truth or set in stone, so to speak. So, you need to be a little bit careful when you give your own opinion. Sometimes you need to qualify and say, “This is my opinion.” In order to spark debate and multiply your people. You can still have your opinion, you just need to express it in a way that people understand that it is, in fact, your opinion and not the decision – there is a big difference. Because often the leader will make their decision and everyone will think, “Oh, they didn't listen to me.” But if you come and share your opinion – let them know it’s an opinion – and then continue to spark the debate with your people, your opinion may change. That has happened to me. Many times, where I come into an important conversation with a strong opinion on something, and I get my mind changed when I am open enough to have the rigorous debate for people to bring actual data, bring actual information to make decisions, and then we debate those things. 

So, I talk about the vertical thinking and the lateral thinking. So, the vertical thinkers, they'll come in as more logical. It'll make sense often when they speak. Lateral thinkers will come in and they'll have a little different way of coming about it; they'll think outside the box. And just because it's outside the box, though, doesn't mean that you as a leader need to give them a complete out, like, “Well, we need people to be a little more creative. Great job. Let's think about this.” You still need to hold them to the same rigorous expectations. If you're going to make a comment or you're going to make a suggestion, provide the data to back it up, even if it's a less logical solution because you need those – you need the out-of-the-box thinking, but still, out-of-the-box thinking paired with real data.

And together, with all the different people feeling like they are able to debate in an open and safe environment, you will get the best decisions you could possibly get. Having all types of thinking and people feeling safe. And in the end, they get multiplied. And people that are around multipliers, they actually feel smarter, because they are smarter when they're around other people in a safe environment with healthy thinking. 

 So, the same goes true, not just at work, but at home with our children. Children are often naturally, incredibly creative. And eventually, some of them just get their creativity beat out of them in a way. Whether it's by their parents or school teachers or just the system where they feel like they have to be in a methodical, very logical way all the time – sometimes they lose some of their creativity. But it's within all of us. And so at home, when you're with your children, you can encourage creativity and listen to their ideas, and listen to them all the way through, and help them learn to express themselves and their ideas in a way that will bless them throughout their lives. Give everyone a chance to speak up in your family, make sure they have a chance to feel what it’s like to be in a safe environment where they can speak their mind, and their ideas are valued. 

 So, as we go back to work, do you have members of your team that are great at this great? At thinking a little more creatively? A little bit different? And do they have a chance to use their superpower, so to speak, the ability to think a little differently? Is your team environment a place where they are safe to speak or everyone is safe to express their opinions and feel comfortable doing so even when their opinion is not the one that's actually executed in the end, that's taken for the decision? Because you, as the leader, have to make the decision in the end. You are the one who gets to make the ultimate decision. Even if the majority disagrees, you are the one that gets to decide, taking in all of the different rigorous debate and data, and you are the one that has all of the information to be able to make those critical decisions. And how much better it is to make those decisions with all of the information around and all of your team supporting the ultimate decision by you, the leader? Liz Wiseman had one more quote that I love, she said, “Rigorous debate doesn't break down a team, it builds them and makes the team stronger.” If you want a stronger team, you must have rigorous debate. 

 We always bring things back to communication here on the show. Almost everything comes back to communication and the way you communicate. Rigorous debate is communication, it is a chance where everyone is able to speak their mind in the group. It is where the team is able to build and become stronger. Your relationship with your employees, on your one-on-one meetings, you guys can build set expectations and build your relationship there. Just like we talk about our one-on-one transformation guide, you can download that in the show notes as well. There's a link if you don't know what that is. Our one-on-one transformation guide can help you transform your one-on-ones to improve your communication of each of your employees and to help you to be able to help them reach their highest levels of performance and be happiest in their jobs. So, that's what you do on the one-on-one. But for a team, you must promote rigorous debate if you want to be strong. I have never been a part of a team that doesn't debate rigorously and push back on each other in a safe and kind way. But also a very direct way, not beating around the bush, there is no stepping on eggshells allowed in a strong team. If you find that you have to step on eggshells or you're unable to speak freely – in a kind way, obviously – or you're worried that people are going to be offended, you need to reevaluate the members of your team. You may have a wrong person in a wrong seat on your team if that is the way that it feels – something to consider. 

 So, what are the takeaways for today? What are you going to do differently? What are the insights that you received as you're listening today? What is it that you are going to do differently with your team? Allow yourself to think differently on difficult problems. There's something you can learn; this lateral thinking and also being the debate-maker and multiplying your people, not accidentally diminishing people and their capabilities by not allowing this rigorous debate but actually being the one that makes the debate happen, helps make better decisions, and helps your team grow stronger together. You got this. Can't wait to see you again next week.