Vertical thinking: definition and 11 characteristics

Vertical thinking: definition and 11 characteristics

There are different types of thinking, depending on their characteristics, procedures, uses, fields of application … A great division of thinking is that which classifies it into: vertical thinking (logical) and lateral thinking (creative).

In this article we will talk about one of them: vertical or logical thinking , based on reason. We will explain what it consists of, what its 11 most important characteristics are and we will know some of its differences with respect to lateral thinking.

  • You may be interested in: “The 9 types of thought and their characteristics”

Thought: definition and functions

Thought is, in a way, one of the defining characteristics of the human being. It is a capacity that differentiates us from animals, and that allows us to form ideas, relate them to each other and represent reality in our minds. It also allows us to solve problems, draw conclusions, analyze data and sequences, etc.

There are many ways of thinking, and surely all of them are complementary, valid and necessary in one context or another. When we use reason, logic and evidence, we are using a type of thinking called vertical thinking . Do you want to know more details about this type of thinking? Read on.

Vertical thinking: what is it?

Vertical thinking is also called logical thinking . It would be the “opposite” of lateral thinking, which is freer and more creative. Thus, vertical thinking is characterized as a type of thinking based on analysis and reasoning. When we use it, we tend to reach conclusions and solutions where others have previously arrived, that is, it is not so “innovative” in this sense, as lateral thinking is.

In this way, when we use logic and common sense, we are using vertical thinking; this, moreover, is characterized by the use of paths and strategies that are already known and “visible” to the naked eye, that is, strategies that are more obvious or more recurrent. These strategies serve to solve a problem or to reach a conclusion.

In reality, vertical thinking is used much more than lateral thinking, because the latter is based on creativity and on using less obvious or less visible (in some ways, more difficult to find) strategies.


We will know the 11 most important characteristics of vertical thinking below.

1. Emphasize logic

As we saw, this kind of thinking is based on logic. That is to say, it emphasizes the logical sequential enchainment of things and ideas. This means that in order to reach a conclusion through vertical thinking, we must analyze in detail the steps that will allow us to reach it, and follow them strictly.

In this way, we have previously defined the solution to the problem in a concrete way, and the direction we take to reach it is also well defined.

2. Proven solutions

Another characteristic of vertical thinking is that it is usually based on solutions that have previously proven their effectiveness (in other situations, moments, contexts…). In other words, it is intended to “play it safe” in this sense.

3. Emphasize reason

Vertical thinking, moreover, is also based on reason, in addition to logic. Reason is a capacity that allows us to establish relationships between concepts, as well as to obtain results and/or conclusions in the face of certain problems. Thus, it is the way that vertical thinking uses to design the steps “to be followed” when solving certain problems.

4. It is based on the analysis

On the other hand, vertical thinking is based on the analysis of different elements: among them, the analysis of the original problem (its causes, consequences…), the analysis of the methodology to be followed (the steps) to obtain a solution, and finally the analysis of the implemented solution (although not in all cases).

5. Useful in mathematics

These characteristics that we have mentioned make vertical thinking particularly useful in certain fields and areas, such as mathematics and science, since they are intended to be exact fields.

Furthermore, in mathematics or science, we must use sequences of determined steps, to arrive at determined solutions, which characterizes vertical thinking. If we use different steps or in different order, many times we will not be able to reach the desired result.

6. Emphasis on process

Vertical thinking is characterized by the fact that the process to be followed is very important in order to reach the correct or successful conclusion, unlike vertical thinking, which emphasizes the effectiveness of the solution.

7. The objective is to reach a valid conclusion

The direction that we mark when we use vertical thinking is unique and well defined; through that direction we follow a few steps and come to a conclusion. This is the goal of vertical thinking.

8. The steps are “sacred”

The steps we design to reach our conclusion are of great importance. This means that we cannot skip any of them, nor change the order, because that would prevent us from reaching our solution.

In other words, the steps that we establish must always be respected. This also differentiates it from lateral thinking, where steps can be skipped and what matters is the solution (and creation).

9. Not related to other approaches

Another characteristic of vertical thinking is that it does not use other topics to reach a conclusion, whether they are related to the one we are working on or independent of it. That is, it works exclusively with the approaches to the problem. This does not mean that it does not use other solutions that have already proven their effectiveness, because it does.

10. It is based on evidence

So, in relation to the last thing we were talking about, vertical thinking is based on evidence to design its steps and look for solutions. In contrast, lateral thinking focuses on less obvious or less obvious approaches or approaches.

11. Your goal is to find a solution

The objective of vertical thinking is to find a solution to the problem posed; this means that a solution will always be found, even if it is not initially “the best”.

Vertical thinking vs. lateral thinking

We can say that vertical thinking is the antagonistic to lateral thinking . We have only seen some of the differences between the two, but there are many more. Broadly speaking, what mainly differentiates them is that vertical thinking is logical and analytical, and lateral thinking is creative and free, and tries to go “beyond”.

These two types of thinking are effective at different times and, in a way, can complement each other in order to optimize our resources and find different conclusions. Thus, each of them can be applied in specific contexts, fields or areas.

Bibliographic references:

  • Espino, O. (2004) Pensamiento y razonamiento. Pirámide.

  • Garnham, A. and Oakhill, J. (1996) Manual of Psychology of Thought. Ed. Paidós.

  • Sánchez, L. (2017). The inflection between vertical and lateral thinking. Workshop on the production of messages, 1-3.

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