3 effective ways to think “outside the box”

Thinking outside the box is about dispensing with constraints and is a sought after skill particularly in marketing, technology and design...

With that said however, it is a great quality to be applied in any environment or problem solving scenario, as it encourages creative thinking, imagination and coming up with new concepts and ideas, which is very much needed in an innovative world.   

So where does the saying “thinking outside the box” come from, it was used by management consulting groups in the 1960s and 70s, in the form of an illustration puzzle called the “nine dots puzzle” from a 1914 book by Sam Lloyd called the Cyclopedia of Puzzles. The consulting firms would present the following puzzle and instruction that requires lateral thinking.  

Link all 9 dots using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting the pen and without tracing the same line more than once.

Link all 9 dots using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting the pen and without tracing the same line more than once.

The often cited solution appears below, using only 4 lines.

The often cited solution appears below, using only 4 lines.

As our minds are often drawn to building a box within the parameters of the illustration above, we instantly put in place constraints to a solution. 

3 effective ways to think “outside the box” 

1. Break your habits. When presented with a challenge, we often approach them from past experiences and draw upon tried and tested ideas, that have worked well for us in the past. There is nothing wrong with this approach and or a strategic and risk calculated formula. However, in order to continue to innovate and produce something truly original, when building new solutions that solve problems, especially in a digital age, it is important to step out of our comfort zones. The best way to do this is practice, each day break your daily habits and try break away from your usual way of doing things. This helps see past those invisible but very much present constraints that we have built ourselves.   

2. Put aside the fear of failure. Thinking outside the box requires creativity and risk taking, and with risk taking mistakes can happen. Failure is often broad and numerous before great success and that is especially true for new and original concepts, products and design. We just have to look at some of the greatest innovators, Sir James Dyson, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein to learn that failure is not fatal. When it comes to thinking outside the box, it’s essential that you are prepared to take risks and make mistakes. If not, you’ll come to a standstill before you’ve even begun. Instead focus on all the things that could go right, it’s often that some of our best pieces of work evolve from our mistakes.

3. Try a different perspective. Approaching the problem or challenge from a different perspective. When we are confronted with a question, we usually focus our attention on trying to come up with a solution. A slightly different approach that can be taken is to focus on re-conceptualising the problem in front of you and examining the question from various angles and perspectives, all with a view to gaining a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Imagine that you’re making the decision on behalf of someone else. What advice would you give them? What options do they have? What are the possible outcomes from each option? How would you propose they solve the problem?

Have an innovative idea, and need help bringing it to life? Contact our Marketing, design and technologists today.

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