Lateral Thinking


A Partially-Specified Problem is when someone gave you very little information, but you solve the problem anyways.

For example, If I have very little money, but I want to buy a car, the problem is 'I need a car, but I have little to no money. So, how do I address this partially-specified problem? Well, I could review my income, savings and then calculate what I will need to stay in college and maintain my desired level of spending.

A partially-specified problem requires a lot of Lateral Thinking, i.e., removing the systematic step-by-step marching orders and adding your intuition, unique algorithms, and metaphors to the equation for easier understanding. 

Oftentimes, we are not given all the information, forcing us to solve the problem in new ways. 

Can you spot the lateral thinker?

To produce the fan effect, our young person in the back but straighten that leg beyond their capability. But, with a bit of lateral thinking, the job is done!

Let's try a Partially-Specified Problems from

  • Partially Qualified for A Job:
  • You have a job interview for a position you feel you are only partially qualified for, although you want the job and are excited about the prospects. You analyze how you will explain your skills and experiences to show that you are a good match for the prospective employer.

Do you see a problem issued, but the underlined section offered a solution to the question, albeit partially, with an ambitious outcome? One of the pitfalls of completing a task is worrying if you are doing it right and fear doing it wrong and failing. That's what we call hitting the academic wall. You are so scared of doing it wrong or failing; you don't do anything.

In situations where you have a Partially-Specified Problem and you're not sure how to arrive at the answer,

  • First, define the problem:
  • Do not ask yourself 'what is the problem", instead say, "what could be one or two possible problems?" This allows you to brainstorm possible problems and help guide you to a defined problem to address.
  • Then, identify possible solutions:
  • What are the consequences of each solution you offered? It can't be the end of the world, right?
  • Logically, what would be best in this situation? It might not be ideal or even correct, but it is logical given the parameters in front of you.
  • Finally, pick one and JUMP!
  • Given all the information, it's time to jump off the cliff and hope for the best. Defend your solutions and hold tight for the ride!
Kelly Perez, Adjunct Professor