Think Outside the Box

Think outside the box is one of the biggest creativity cliches. The basic idea is that to be creative you need to challenge your own assumptions and look at things from a fresh angle. You need to break out of conventional thinking and take off the blinkers formed by past experience. It means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before.

The phrase is generally held to have originated with the classic ‘nine-dotcreativity puzzle: Draw four straight lines through the nine dots without retracing and without lifting your pen from the paper:


The solution to this problem can only be found by going outside the “boundaries” formed by the rectangular arrangement of the dots. It doesn’t occur to most people to extend their line into the space outside the dots. We see the arrangement as a boundary, an implicit rule that must be followed. But nowhere does the problem state that you can’t draw outside the box.


Summing-up: Creative solutions are often found only by challenging accepted rules, many of which we only assume are there. The next time you are faced with a challenging problem, examine the constraints. Are they true constraints, or are they simply a construct of “following the rules”?

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