If you’re an attentive reader, you certainly noticed that we mention a lot that you need to ‘think out of the box’ if you want to succeed as a leader, if you want your brand and business to rise above its competitors, and your employees to be dedicated to your company’s growth.
Let’s try something different now:
Let’s think out of the box about the ‘out of the box thinking‘ concept!
Don’t you believe that out of the box thinking has its own limits?
It doesn’t allow us to look at the issue at hands through a different perspective.
It only forces us to take a step back to think at the problem from far away, but through the same lights and angle.
And this is not always enough...
A little history.
The out of the box thinking concept was created after the nine dots exercise, developed in the early 1970s by US psychologist - Joy Paul Guilford:
To succeed, you need to connect all dots with no more than four straight lines, without lifting the pen from your paper when your start drawing.
(The solution of the exercise is at the end of this article)
At first glance, it seems to be impossible.
How can you connect all those dots without lifting your pen?
Well, this is when thinking outside the box (and literally thinking out of the box) comes handy.
If you look at the problem in a traditional manner, there is no way that you can succeed.
Now, if you take a step back, force yourself to go beyond the obvious, you will eventually find the correct answer(s).
Let’s go back and think further about our reasoning process.
First, it seems impossible to successfully link all dots with straight lines without lifting the pen.
Why is that?
Because we see the nine dots like this:
or, if you want to make it more plain, we see those dots like that:
... a box!
For some reasons, despite the fact that nowhere is the problem statement it is said to stay within the limits of the bordering dots, we have the automatic tendency to limit ourselves.
To find the solution to this exercise, you need to think differently, to go beyond the obvious… to go outside the box!
Looking outside the box is a good exercise as it teaches us that the obvious is by far not enough and most of the time it doesn’t allow to address problems properly.
To most issues there is one or more solutions, as long as you take the time to look at them differently.
This addresses the “it is not possible; there is no solution; our competitors are better than us; there is nothing we can do about it” we hear so many times! It does address also the “there is a process already, why change it?”:
In both cases, out of the box thinking allows to find a solution to an issue beyond the obvious, and permits to develop a new process more efficient than the previous one – thinking out of the box allows to get out of the daily routine that is a well-known corporate disease.
These types of thinking, that we all hear on a daily basis from our colleagues (from management to rank & file) and friends & family, reminds me of the infamous comment from the 1889 United States Director of Patents and Trademark Office, Charles H. Duell, who stated:
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
It is so much easier to go with the already known and obvious than to even think that it is possible to go beyond and above!
In fact, more than 90% of the time, by simply thinking out the box, you resolve your issues!
And then, you’ve got the 10% (if not more - thinking out of the box is not an addition-proof science!) remaining, when out of the box thinking is not enough.
Why thinking out of the box is not enough?
In some cases, as mentioned earlier, thinking out of the box is not enough, because by doing so you are looking at your problem through only one angle – in the traditional exercise, that is on a plain area.
But what if this is the wrong way to look at your issue? Have you even consider that it can be a possibility?
What if looking at it through the plane angle is wrong and does not provide the proper solution?
For instance, in some cases you might need to look at your issue (if we keep the geometrical example) on a totally different plane:
Your nine dots are still there, but to find the solution to the problem (as shown above), you need to think totally differently:
Your solution could appear only when you move from your ‘question asked’ plane to a different level of understanding.
The latter solution “requires overcoming the tendency to see the pattern as a square and refrain from using any of the conventional aspects of the problem, including the borders and the box, and thus is exhibiting boxless thinking,” said Orin Davis, Critical and Creative Thinking Lecturer at UMass, Boston.
In some cases – more than you first think – thinking outside the box is not what you need to do.
What you need is to think beyond the box.
Only thinking beyond the box could let you find the above latter solution.
How to think beyond the box?
Keep your eyes and ears open at all times.
Take on board everything you read, you see, and you hear – an article read in the newspaper, a conversation heard from total strangers in a coffee-shop, a movie, signs and shops walking down the street, whatever.
You already do, without even paying attention you do.
What you don’t do, on the other hand, is to take advantage of the billions of data your brain stores continuously!
Next time you have a problem, first check if thinking out of the box works – it will in most cases.
If it doesn’t, follow these three easy steps
1. Write down the issue
State your problem in no more than 10 words – five would be best.
Synthetizing your issue allow you to ‘clean’ it from unnecessary information that may block your thinking process.
2. Write down the first solutions that come to mind
Usually, the first solutions that come to mind are the most obvious, the in the box ones.
The may bring a quick fix to issue but are in no way able to provide a long-term solution.
If your brain is already well exercised to out of the box thinking, you may even find alternative answers to the question asked (in the same way that there are at least 3 known solutions to the nine dots exercise – we’ll give you only the most common one below; up to you to find the others!).
On a separate column, write down the pros and cons of these solutions.
You will quickly find out that the cons overcome the pros.
3. Write down anything that comes to mind that is even remotely related to the issue
Think of what you read, heard or saw in the past and see what is related to your problem.
Let me share with you a personal experience to illustrate this point:
Few years ago, I was managing a company made up of talented but very diverse individuals and I had no idea how to have them work successfully together – the issues I had were countless and despite that I was thinking out of the box as much as I could, I was not able to find a satisfying solution.
And then I saw the 2013 movie The Internship.
The story by itself is not of great interest, but what was is that the two heroes (played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) are hired as interns by Google.
As I was watching the movie, I started to be more interested by the story background: how Google operates, how they’re dealing with their employees, etc.
And here it was!
While watching the movie, I understood the concept of fun management and how it allows very diverse individual to work happily together and perform at their very best.
I researched immediately and soon I implemented it:
I achieved what I was looking for well beyond my highest expectations!
This is the perfect example of thinking beyond the box:
Getting crucial information from an average comedy movie that could be easily overlooked if you don’t force yourself do be always aware of your environment, and use the data collected whenever you need it – today, next month or in 5 or 10 years.
In other words, you need to challenge at all time your conventional thinking.
Thinking beyond the box might not always be well received.
If all companies acknowledge that thinking out of the box is necessary – even if many managers don’t really understand the concept and how it works -, thinking beyond the box is another issue all together!
Many managers – and even few leaders – will be scared by this unconventional way of thinking.
When I decided to implement fun management, I was lucky to have a President of the Board who allowed me to try the experience – needless to say he was thrilled by the outcome!
On the other hand, in most traditional companies – the vast majority – even starting to think to consider looking at fun management is already too much!
In most cases, they will settle for poor substitutes that feel and look like the real thing but without – of course – the short- and long-lasting positive outcomes.
I call that the Canada Dry management style!
As much as thinking out the box took time to be recognized as a useful management tool (well above 10 years), we need to work hard to add beyond the box thinking to any leader tool box!
Oh! By the way, here is the solution to the nine dots exercise:
Were you able to find the solution all by yourself?
Are you implementing out of the box thinking to your daily professional and personal life?
Have you ever tried beyond the box thinking?