Thinking outside the box
Thinking outside the box (sometimes erroneously called "thinking out of the box" or "thinking outside the square") is to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel or creative thinking.
This is sometimes called a process of lateral thought. The catchphrase, or cliché, has become widely used in business environments, especially by management consultants and executive coaches, and has spawned a number of advertising slogans. To think outside the box is to look further and to try not thinking of the obvious things, but to try thinking beyond them.
A simplified analogy is "the box" in the commonly used phrase "thinking outside the box". What is encompassed by the words "inside the box" is analogous with the current, and often unnoticed, assumptions about a situation. Creative thinking acknowledges and rejects the accepted paradigm to come up with new ideas.
Nine dots puzzle
The origins of the phrase "thinking outside the box" are obscure; but it was popularized in part because of a nine-dot puzzle, which John Adair claims to have introduced in 1969. Management consultant Mike Vance has claimed that the use of the nine-dot puzzle in consultancy circles stems from the corporate culture of the Walt Disney Company, where the puzzle was used in-house.
The puzzle proposed an intellectual challenge—to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots, and never lifting the pencil from the paper. The conundrum is easily resolved, but only if you draw the lines outside the confines of the square area defined by the nine dots themselves. The phrase "thinking outside the box" is a restatement of the solution strategy. The puzzle only seems difficult because we imagine a boundary around the edge of the dot array. The heart of the matter is the unspecified barrier which is typically perceived.
The nine dots puzzle is much older than the slogan. It appears in Sam Loyd's 1914 Cyclopedia of Puzzles. In the 1951 compilation The Puzzle-Mine: Puzzles Collected from the Works of the Late Henry Ernest Dudeney, the puzzle is attributed to Dudeney himself. Sam Loyd's original formulation of the puzzle entitled it as "Christopher Columbus's egg puzzle." This was an allusion to the story of Egg of Columbus.
This flexible English phrase is a rhetorical trope with a range of variant applications.
The metaphorical "box" in the phrase "outside the box" may be married with something real and measurable — for example, perceived budgetary or organizational constraints in a Hollywood development project. Speculating beyond its restrictive confines the box can be both:
- (a) positive— fostering creative leaps as in generating wild ideas (the conventional use of the term); and
- (b) negative— penetrating through to the "bottom of the box." James Bandrowski states that this could result in a frank and insightful re-appraisal of a situation, oneself, the organization, etc.
On the other hand, Bandrowski argues that the process of thinking "inside the box" need not be construed in a pejorative sense. It is crucial for accurately parsing and executing a variety of tasks — making decisions, analyzing data, and managing the progress of standard operating procedures, etc.
Hollywood screenwriter Ira Steven Behr appropriated this concept to inform plot and character in the context of a television series. Behr imagined a core character:
- He is going to be "thinking outside the box," you know, and usually when we use that cliche, we think outside the box means a new thought. So we can situate ourselves back in the box, but in a somewhat better position.
- ^ Kihn, Martin. "'Outside the Box': the Inside Story," FastCompany 1995; Random House: "Outside the Box Thinking".
- ^ The Art of Creative Thinking: How to Be Innovative and Develop Great Ideas
- ^ Biography of Mike Vance at Creative Thinking Association of America.
- ^ Daniel Kies, "English Composition 2: Assumptions: Puzzle of the Nine Dots", retr. Jun. 28, 2009.
- ^ Sam Loyd, Cyclopedia of Puzzles. (The Lamb Publishing Company, 1914)
- ^ J. Travers, The Puzzle-Mine: Puzzles Collected from the Works of the Late Henry Ernest Dudeney. (Thos. Nelson, 1951)
- ^ Facsimile from Cyclopedia of Puzzles - Columbus's Egg Puzzle is on right-hand page
- ^ a b Lupick, Travis. "Clone Wars proved a galactic task for production team." The Georgia Straight, August 21, 2008; "... budgetary constraints forced the production team to think outside the box in a positive way.
- ^ a b c TCA Tour – You Asked For It: Ira Steven Behr’s opening remarks
- Adams, J. L. (1979). Conceptual blockbusting: A guide to better ideas. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 9780201100891. ISBN 0201100894 (more solutions to the nine dots problem - with less than 4 lines!)
- Scheerer, M. (1972). "Problem-solving". Scientific American 208 (4): 118–128.
- Golomb, Solom W.; Selfridge, John L. (1970). "Unicursal polygonal paths and other graphs on point lattices". Pi Mu Epsilon Journal 5: 107–117. MR0268063.
- Out-of-the-box vs. outside the box citing Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (OALD), Word of the Month
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