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How can you think outside the box – top 3 tips.

Think outside the box isn’t jargon. It’s useful advice.

This might seem like a cliché but the advice is relevant to everyone. The box, in this situation can mean two things.

  • Your mental and social box
  • The problem’s box

By the box, we simply mean barriers created by assumptions or limitations. If you are thinking inside the box, you are thinking within your normal assumptions. Thinking outside the box means recognising these assumptions and trying to remove them as barriers.

The Box

Your mental and social box

Your mental and social box is made up of the assumptions created by your life experiences. If you’ve only ever seen people with iPhones, you might assume that everyone has an iPhone.

The sides of this box are made up by the limits of your research and your experiences. If you’ve only read UK research, there may be a global solution to your problem. If you’ve never caught a train it might be hard for you to generate ideas for rail passengers.

Your problem’s box.

The sides of this box are created when the problem is framed. Often a problem is framed badly creating hidden barriers. Take this problem.

Paul and Sue have been given money by their company for a car. Paul wants a black car, Sue wants a white car. What should they do?

The first barrier we are given is colour. Thinking slightly beyond that barrier they might compromise on a grey car. But what about another colour they both like.

The second barrier is the car. Thinking outside of this barrier might means we recommend two motorcycles instead; a black one and a white one.

Finally, the ultimate barrier is the problem itself. What’s the objective? Maybe they are being given a car because they often need to pick up office supplies. Maybe it would be cheaper to find an office supplies company that delivers.

How can you think outside the box – top 3 tips.

  1. Write down the ultimate objective of your solution. Think of ideas that will achieve that, not just ideas within the problem’s constraints.
  2. Write down the barriers set out by the problem, like the colour and the car in the previous problem. Being aware of them will help you to think around them.
  3. Write down your own assumptions and limitations. Then think about ways y ou can avoid them through further research or collaboration.


You might also be interested to watch this Ted Talk on Creative Thinking.

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