Why outside the box thinking is not only reserved for the brilliant minds among us

“Welcome all! Today we are going to do some great work. We are going to think outside the box, explore a new horizon, come up with fresh ideas, etc.”

When I hear phrases like this, I get nervous. I am not sure if I want to explore new horizons, I tend to enjoy the horizon I see at the beach already quite a lot. But even worse, when I hear I have to think outside the box, the box seems so incredibly big that it becomes impossible to think outside it. I am sure, I am not the only one who reacts in this way. In a workshop where this kind of phrases are said you usually look around and see people who seem eager to start, but in their eyes there is also some uncomfortable look, sometimes even downright panic. Unfortunately, these kinds of phrases is used quite often in workshops that are about creativity.

"Outside the box for many people sounds like to equivalent to creating something out of nothing."

Outside the box for many people sounds like to equivalent to creating something out of nothing. And that is also where the problem starts. If one thinks that he has to come up with ideas no one ever thought of it can sound like a daunting task.

What is usually meant by outside the box thinking is that the group will approach an existing problem in a new way than done before. It is about using different perspectives to look at the box at hand. It is about using the existing frames of reference in a different way. To be able to do that, experiences and memories in any way are needed. You need stimuli and inspiration to pair up all your past experiences and thoughts in different ways.

An example. Once I was in a workshop where we had to create a paper airplane and see which one flew furthest. One person crushed his paper into a paper plug and in the end his ‘air ball’ won the contest. Two months later I participated in another workshop. We were divided into 2 groups and were separated about 10 metres from each other. Our group received quite a difficult sentence on paper and we were asked to convey the message to the other group without making any sound or approaching them. I took the paper, crushed it into a paper plug and threw it to the other group. In 20 seconds we solved the problem.

"The problem with solving problems in a simple way is that it does not always feel creative. Once the idea is generated, it seems so logical."

If I would not have been in the other workshop before, the chance that I would have come up with this solution was very small. In fact, before I took the paper with the phrase on it, other people in our group started to think of playing charades to get the phrase across . And that is exactly the point, creativity is not so much about coming up with entirely new ideas, it is about finding the best and (preferably) simplest idea to solve the right problem.

The problem with solving problems in a simple way is that it does not always feel creative, because once the idea is generated, it seems so logical. This stems from the fact that great ideas are often just a build up of different ideas, sometimes even an idea that was rejected in the past but was just revisited or built upon. When the big question is ‘why did we not come up with this solution before?’, the solution often is a good one.

To conclude, to be able to come up with creative solutions to any problem, it is invaluable to have many different experiences in your life and use all different bits and pieces to come up with new ideas or built upon ideas of other people. It is not about thinking outside the box, it is about connecting all boxes one gathered in his/her life in new ways.

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