One of my favourite sketches from the old CBC Radio programme The Frantics was called Lateral Thinking Theatre. With that title, if you remember The Frantics, you can probably figure out the rest.
On a trip around Lake Ontario about five years ago with my brother Steve and my mother, we invented a “car game” of the same name. The challenge was for one of us to name a person of some reknown, and for the others to concoct a course through their social network that would allow them to have a telephone call taken by this person.
For example, I said “Bill Clinton.” Steve responded by naming his friend Dave, an editor for the CBC Morning News in Halifax, who worked with Henry Champ, Washington Bureau Chief for CBC Newsworld who, in turn, would probably know someone who could get him to Clinton. Not the strongest case, I agree, but you get the idea.
The only problem with this game is that I can never find anyone to play it with. Kind of like charades. I could play charades every night if I could find people to play with.
Lateral thinking has a bad name in my generation. I think this is because late-1960s / early-1970s public and high school teachers suddenly took on lateral thinking as a “teachable concept.” There was many a year during my schooling when you couldn’t go five minutes without hearing or seeing some reference to “developing lateral thinking skills through application of blah blah blah.” There’s nothing like becoming a “teachable concept” to turn something into a pox.
Despite the best efforts of the well-intentioned teaching staffs of recent decades, I wouldn’t rate the lateral thinking abilities of we in western society very high. We’re forever following hierarchies, looking for cause and effect, following predictable neural pathways; it’s rare that we have the courage to think sideways. When we do, it’s amazing what sometimes results.
My own trip around Lake Ontario should not be confused with the Short Film of the Same Name. This 1984 film was directed by Colin Brunton [lateral move: he produced Roadkill, which was directed by the brother of my friend Barbara Jean], filmed by Peter Mettler [lateral move: Jane Siberry’s ex] and stars David McFadden [lateral move: used to be a night proofreader at the Hamilton Spectator; I was a Spec paperboy as a kid] and Al Purdy [lateral move: Al was good friends with my friend Mikey]. Oh, and as far as I know, all of the abovenamed live on or around Lake Ontario. Except me.