The big catchphrase for creativity and self improvement, has been the overused term, “think outside the box”.
What does it really mean?
The term is thought to derive from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s challenging their clients to solve the “nine dots” puzzle without lifting the pencil, whose solution requires some lateral thinking.
Shown above is the puzzle and solutions.
The clue to solving the puzzle is to think outside the visual box of the nine dots. Many people can’t solve the puzzle because, according to research, they apply assumptions, perceived limitations and self-restrictions to limit their problem-solving abilities. The solution is literally a visual of ‘outside the box’. Problem solving that is indirect and creative.
A Bit of History on the ‘Box’
The term actually originated from this nine-dot puzzle from a psychologist named J. P. Guilford. He conducted a study of creativity and divergent thinking and how it ties into creativity.
He challenged research subjects to connect all nine dots using just four straight lines without lifting their pencils from the page. Today many people are familiar with this puzzle and its solution. In the 1970s, however, very few were even aware of its existence, even though it had been around for almost a century.
At the first stages, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square. Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.
Eighty percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square and this led Guilford and the readers of his books to jump to the conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box. In the 1970s creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box. And surprisingly this is still a popular term.
The bottom line (or box) for thinking outside the box is really about looking further than the obvious and limitations. It’s taking the risk to try something else.
Wondering how you can escape the ‘box’ – Find more creative inspiration and creative ‘thinking’ tips here.