Where does the concept of Thinking Outside the Box come from?
This concept was introduced in the works of psychologist J. Guilford, who, at the beginning of the 1970s, was among the first academic researchers to carry on a study on creativity.
Guilford used in one of his studies the so-called nine-dot puzzle. He challenged research participants to connect the nine dots with the help of just 4 straight lines without lifting their pens from the surface of the page. Today people are familiar with this puzzle and its relatively simple solution. In the early 1970s, however, very few were aware of it.
Those who tried solving this puzzle would first attempt sketching lines inside the imaginary box. The right solution, though, requires one to draw lines that reach BEYOND the square marked by the dots.
Guilford concluded that a true innovation, which is often a synonym for solving a problem, requires stepping outside the imaginary boundaries or constrictions/limitations. Very quickly this idea became viral as other psychologists, scientists, academics and business trainers have started to preach it to their audiences. Outside-the-box thinking remains very popular to this day.
Why Thinking Outside the Box is important?
Despite its notable age, as it has been around for more than 50 years, it is still holding on well. The academic and business world continue to include this idea in their education and training programs. The simple answer is that they find outside-the-box thinking beneficial and profitable.
The benefits of this thinking get multiplied by the recent technological advancements and developments in corporate cultures. The new information and communication technologies enable people to collaborate more effectively and efficiently by connecting specialists and ideas via PC and smartphone embedded applications.
The cloud thinking and working resonates well with the original Guilford’s idea. In addition, colleges and businesses are shifting their academic and corporate cultures respectively towards the open-space philosophy, where there are no or much fewer silos, but instead, people are studying and working in one, big creative environment with minimum doors and separate rooms.
These transformations produce a somewhat synergistic effect with the thinking outside the box approach, which apparently only benefits from new media (such as modern communication applications and social media) and finds new applications in everyday life.
Outsiders bring new ideas to the business domain
Companies often hire external consultants just because they are strangers to their business and culture and are able to look with a fresh mind on a given problem. Unquestionably, the specialists that work inside a company are more knowledgeable in a given business area, have seen a lot, and have been through a lot of trials, which makes them experts, indeed. But those things are exactly their limitations too. They have boiled in the same pot for a long time and have hard-wired their brains to looking at things from a conventional perspective.
External consultants, on the other hand, come in with fresh ideas and are not constricted by the existing corporate culture. They are often the ones who suggest to the management revolutionary solutions and great new ideas that drive businesses forward.
Questioning the status quo is hard but rewarding
In general, people do not like changes. Changes require a mental and physical effort that is why many find it more comfortable to stay within the existing boundaries/rules and reject solutions that may require stepping outside a comfort zone. From childhood, we are taught that things work this way and not the other, with time and experience we cement these admonitions. However, such an approach and thinking is counterproductive in solving problems and making innovations in the modern world.
For instance, in the late 19th century most physicists thought that everything in physical science has already been discovered and there is nothing left to try and invent. If Albert Einstein did not challenge this status quo, he would not have come with his brilliant and absolutely innovative theories of special and general relativity. The world would never get to know that time and space are relative and that it is possible to slow down the pace of time by reaching the speed of light. That’s what “Thinking Outside The Box” is all about.