Thinking outside the box is more than just a business cliché. It means approaching problems in innovative ways, looking at problems differently, and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation. Ironically, it is a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in other ways.
We’re told to “think outside the box” all the time, but how exactly do we do that? How do we develop the ability to confront problems in ways other than the ways we normally confront problems? How do we cultivate the ability to look at things differently from the way we typically look at things?
Thinking outside the box starts well before we’re “boxed in” – that is, well before we confront a unique situation and start forcing it into a familiar “box” that we already know how to deal with. Or at least think we know how to deal with.
Make an effort to push your thinking beyond its limit every now and again – the talents you develop may come in handy the next time you face a situation that “everybody knows” how to solve.
Think Outside the Box by looking at others.
How do others around you deal with their issues. What is their mindset compared to yours? Why can they handle problems better that you? There is one way to find out. Ask them. Be honest with them and ask them. Make them feel good about themselves by telling them how you admire them and they way they cope. And ask what their secret is.
You might find that many of their problems are similar to the problems in your own life, but that they’ve developed really quite different ways of dealing with them. Or you might well find new linkages between your own mindset and a new one.
Why thinking outside the box is important
Thinking outside the box helps you to solve challenging problems. It allows you to look beyond a defined scope of relevance to find answers that would not exist otherwise.
Thinking outside the box also forces you to scan your horizon. And when you scan your horizon, you become aware of impending threats and opportunities. That strategic foresight keeps you ahead of profit or loss curves because you’re able to be proactive.
People are beginning to understand that if we don’t adapt to try new things, we stagnate — and sometimes even lose our position to the people who choose to dare. The value of having different perspectives in life can’t be overstated. In fact, it’s the true benefit of diversity in the workplace and at home. Diversity of experience, divergent thinking, and a willingness to take risks encourages people to grow. Thinking small, keeps us small.
When we stay in the box, risk-taking, growth, and challenging the status quo all feel much scarier. To become an effective leader, valuable employee, or team member, think outside the box.
Here are some quick Tips to help you think outside the box
Do a brain dump
Brain dumping helps you get ideas out of your head and onto a paper to provide clarity and jumpstart the thinking process.
You write down your thoughts as quickly as they come without worrying about grammar or making any sense at all. This forces you to focus on what matters most: getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or word processor!).
It helps you pen down ideas that you may discard as ridiculous if you paused to think about them. You'll be able to organize and evaluate all these ideas later to come up with a good solution.
Broaden your scope of relevance
When you're trying to solve a problem, it can be tempting to stick to facts that are directly relevant to the particular problem. But that’s not enough. Sticking to a narrow view of relevance prevents you from seeing opportunities that may be right in front of you.
Rather than being closed-minded, you should be open to new ideas and perspectives. The first step is getting used to thinking about things that are outside your comfort zone.
A simple example. Let’s say you need to sharpen a pencil but the pencil sharpener is broken. If you limit yourself to thinking about fixing the sharpener that may take too long. But when you broaden your scope of relevance, you go from looking for a sharpener to looking for a sharp object. Only then do you pay attention to the scissors, knife, or other household objects that can be used as a sharpener in a pinch.
Box yourself in with a timer
Does your brain move into creative overdrive to beat approaching deadlines? This might be the perfect technique for you.
When faced with a challenging problem, set an arbitrary deadline for yourself. Next, find someone (or something) to hold you accountable. You may ask a friend or child (more on this later). You could set a timer on your phone for smaller problems.
Work backward from the goal
Working backward from the goal allows you to focus more on the outcome than the process. As such, you give yourself room to get creative with the process.
You’ll be able to design key milestones that you can focus on separately as well. This allows you to break the problem down into tiny solvable bits.
Write down the outcome on a pad or piece of paper. Then write the milestones you need to reach to achieve that goal. Keep breaking the milestones down until there’s just one task available per milestone.
Ask someone outside your field
One of the biggest reasons for boxed-in thinking is because you’re too close to the rules to see anything else. Ask someone who doesn’t know your rules what they would do to solve the problem. You’ll get some new perspectives you’d never see on your own.
You could ask your parent, spouse, friend, or even a stranger on the street. You could also ask the end users of your product or service. For example, if you're designing a new software system, the people who will use it will have some of the best ideas. If you're designing a new business process, collaborate cross-functionally. Go to the people who are doing the work of designing or promoting your project and ask them what they think.
Ask a child
Children have an uncorrupted view of the world and how things work. To them, everything is possible. If you talk to a child about your problem, they’ll likely share ideas you’d never come up with on your own.
Maybe some of those ideas will be over the top or involve copious amounts of sugar. Nevertheless, talking to children may be some of the most creative brainstorming you can do.
Problem solve for someone else
Solving (or attempting to solve) other people’s problems can help you come up with ideas to resolve your own. You exercise your brain without pressure and get a thrill from problem-solving. That thrill should keep your brain in heightened problem-solving mode.
If the problem is close enough to your own, you might find patterns you can use for yourself.
Brainstorm with colleagues
Brainstorming with colleagues can be a great way to spark creativity. Gather colleagues in your office, an empty conference room, or on a Zoom call and brainstorm together.
Summarize the problem, give people 10 to 15 minutes to think, then allow everyone to share their ideas in turns. The aim is to come up with as many possible solutions — even the ones that seem unlikely. Unlikely approaches to challenges often yield innovative ways of solving them.
Whatever you do, think twice: First in the box, then outside the box
Because outside-the-box thinking often breaks the rules and may sound ridiculous, embracing it can be hard. The first person who pitched the idea of a wheel in prehistoric times probably got some strange looks.
What about Thomas Edison? Light bulb? No way! But without thinking outside the box, these people wouldn’t have changed the world in the way they did.
What’s more? Creativity, achieved through outside-the-box thinking, is a characteristic of good leaders. The values and traits that leaders display tend to have a way of embedding themselves into team culture. In other words, when you demonstrate a willingness to think out of the box, your friends and family will feel inspired and empowered to do the same.
Master the established rules of your craft. Apply them and if they’re not yielding results, permit yourself to start thinking outside the box. You’ll be glad you did.
Think out of the box – This is a statement that has been overused by millions of people across the world. Thinking outside the box is not easy because we are creatures of habit. We enjoy staying in our comfort zones.
To think out of the box might mean giving up our beliefs and increasing our chances of failure and rejection. However, when you start thinking differently, you’ll grow on a business and personal level.
If you’ve been struggling to stay ahead of the crowd, using the tips that I’ve shared here will help you achieve your goals easily. And live happily. Don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who are willing to help you grow and prosper.
Until next month.
Have a good one and remember. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.