Sunday, October 3, 2010

Just another cliche?

We learn to think of our ideas inside the box. Then we are taught to think outside the box. The question is, who put the box there? 
'The box' could be the normal way of looking at things. To think out of the box is to challenge the assumptions inside the box, yet identifying assumptions and challenging those assumptions can be challenging. That creates a pretty big challenge... 

Take a look at this well known puzzle. There are nine dots, can you draw four straight lines through all of the dots without lifting your pencil from the paper? If you are not familiar with the puzzle, before scrolling down, try it. Give yourself some time and see what you come up with.   

If you solved it, give yourself a pat on the back. If not, here's a tip: Go beyond the barriers of the box.
Try it before looking!

                                                                      ANSWER 1:

                                                                        ANSWER 2:

How did you find that? Did it make a difference after I said you could go outside the box? 

The whole idea behind this puzzle is that we can't solve the problem by thinking 'inside the box' using our assumptions. The people who see the answers are often shocked and surprised, usually they say 'but you didn't say we could draw outside the box'. Which would be responded by 'Ah, but I didn't say you couldn't draw outside the box either!' When we begin to think 'outside the box' we open up new ideas and it becomes easy to solve the problem. In life, we often get trapped in the constant cycle of things and become creatures of habit, we get busy. It is an effort to challenge our assumptions and think outside the box, a lot of people find it very difficult and time consuming.

But what i want to ask is, is thinking outside the box really a way to make you achieve those fantastic creative solutions? It's kind of saying that if you just think out the box, it will be easy to solve a problem.
There are a few experiments which have been undertaken by Robert Weisberg in which people were told that they have to solve a problem and were given the instructions to draw outside the box. This should have made the problem easier to solve, right? Only 20-25% of subjects were able to solve the problem, and they took quite some time to solve it with a lot of trial and error, rather than newfound creative thinking.

Thinking outside the box’ makes the creative process of idea’s daunting, to me anyway. I feel as if i have to think outside the box in which everybody else places their ides. That’s a pretty large box… It’s overwhelming! Adding to the box that pretty much everything has been done… So maybe the catch phrase should change to 'Thinking outside your box'?

Maybe I'm looking at it wrong... perhaps the 'box' is people's inability to do anything outside of what they have done in the past, what they are used to. Maybe they do live in a box...

A great quote from Mark McGuinness "Creativity is actually WORK. I do like to leave 1% for the magic to happen" 

Einstein said that he wasn't smarter than anyone else, he was just more persistent. (Although he was pretty smart) 

What do u think? Is "Thinking outside the box" one of the biggest cliches in the creative business or is it a very useful tool in creativity?
Help me decide.

PS: Can you come up with any other answers to the puzzle? Thinking outside your box ;) 


  1. Really nice work Al:) I enjoyed reading this! It's an interesting perspective!!

  2. Woah. That is really a challenging thought, one I have never actually pondered over. I agree with the fact that outside the box, would be extraordinary ideas which stand apart from just original thinking. It is important to have some basic imagination, and to approach different situations in our life, with essentially a new approach. Great material to think about Al, found it very interesting. Well done!

  3. A very worth while concept to think about. Generally we are stuck in our boxes, and can't see further! I can see you've done your research!! Nice depth. :)

  4. I definitely agree with you, Josy. Imagination and unique approach methods are key to creating great ideas, especially in our society where new and fantastic idea's are brimming every second.
    Barry that's just what I mean, we get stuck and fall into habit in 'our boxes and can't see further'. Almost as if it's just too much effort to stretch our imaginations a little bit wider.
    I'm glad you guys found it interesting :)
    Thanks for commenting :)

  5. I wont lie... i didn't get the answer to the 9 dots... does that mean "EISH?" I am not thinking outside the box? Ha ha...

  6. HAHA i remember getting something like this at the vega entrance exam. and i was like it is impossible...clearly i don't like to think outside the box but does that mean i am conformed to society or the masses and i don't look beyond what i can see in-front of me??

  7. great work al. terri thinking outside the box can be different to all people, so i dont think it means "you cant see passed whats infront of you" :). our minds work differently, outside the box are just different perceptions.. i think !

  8. Yeah brad, totally. This really intrigued me though, makes me think about other challenges in life and yeah, how we can approach them diffrently, perhaps more positively... ha! Like the background Alice, interesting work!!!