Creative people think differently. This article looks at some ways to think out of the box.
IN one’s career, the phrase “thinking out of the box” has been used numerous times. However, doing it is easier said than done. Try asking the person who asks you to think out of the box and my guess is if you threw the question back to them, they would be stumped too.
The truth is that we have been brought up in a narrow, boxed-in manner. One of the following scenarios may sound familiar. Your parents told you to keep quiet when the adults are talking. You remember having to ask for permission to go to the restroom when attending primary school. Upon entering institutes of higher learning, you had various rules to comply with even if you didn’t believe in them. Then you think that after graduation, the working world has more freedom. However, you found that this was not the case as the working world has its own set of policies and procedures too.
How do you light a cigarette, puff a few times, tap away the ashes, and still have the smoked cigarette remain the same length as a new cigarette?
The answer, though simple, puzzled many people as they thought in the traditional sense. The answer is to light the cigarette in the middle instead of at the usual end.
The puzzle in Figure 1 has boggled many minds. It is called connect the dots. The two examples illustrate the problem of thinking out of the box: Cigarette case: We have learned or seen that cigarettes are always lit at the non-filter end. After ashes are tapped off, the cigarette must be shorter. Therefore, it does not make sense that the smoked cigarette will be the same length as new ones. Nine dots case: What do you see as far as the whole shape or structure of the nine dots are concerned? With your mind telling you the shape of the whole nine dots has to be a square, you are doomed to failure as the brain keeps insisting that is the only right answer. This is due to your mind influencing you to draw the lines that make up the square. This is so powerful that intelligent people forget how to do it after awhile despite having been shown the answer previously.
There is a fictitious but humourous case on thinking out of the box involving the National Aeronautical Space Agency, Nasa, which tried to come out with a multi-terrain, anti-gravity pen so that their astronauts can write something in zero gravity condition or when they have to write with their backs facing gravitational pull, which would result in the ink flow stopping. After spending millions, it was discovered the Russians used a pencil as a writing instrument.
So is there a chance of thinking out of the box? These techniques may help: Reversal: Just ask the reverse of what you are trying to do. Ask yourself how do I decrease sales instead of increase sales if the problem is low sales. Brainstorm the answers, and change all the answers from negative to positive forms. You are looking for ideas which were not thought of previously. When ideas are derived under fun conditions, then the flow of ideas is much quicker than the traditional tense atmosphere of answering the old pressuring question “How does one increase sales?”
Why doesn’t someone invent the “reverse microwave”, meaning a microwave that cools and freezes, as opposed to one that does defrosting, heating, and cooking? Provocation: Challenge the mind out of its established norm by stating something which does not make sense, and then focusing only on the positive aspects. For example, think of a house with no roof. What are the benefits? Answers like better ventilation, save roofing cost, and so on will be listed. One idea to consider: Make sure we provide free products or services with no strings attached when business is bad, and the benefit is the guarantee that our shop will be packed, so how to take advantage of this situation? Can we cross-sell other products, earn income from selling advertising space, or maybe generate income from sharing customers’ contact details with other advertisers? Random seeding: Choose a tangible noun which is not related to problem at hand and try to link the noun to possible solutions. Concept nouns such as “fairness” and “beauty” should be avoided because they are intangible. Choosing a noun unrelated to the issue at hand also forces you to think outside your norm. For pollution from automobile, the word to be used is “plant”. Possible solutions: plant more trees, run exhaust gas through algae solution, use plant oil as fuel.
Here are some tips that are helpful in generating ideas which are out of the box:
Visit other work places. They help to see possibilities popping up
Cross-learn from people of different fields, disciplines, and industries
Learn from fresh graduates, or anyone who is one generation older or younger
Learn from people who have changed fields, like someone from the banking industry joining the restaurant fraternity
Open your eyes and ears, ask lots of questions, and be inquisitive, and
Learn from the mistakes of others. Make sure you do not do the same thing or solve the problem the same way. For example, Gap had to make a U-turn on their changed logo after loyal customers complained furiously about the chang.
Andrew Cheah conducts various training programmes ranging from creativity, sales and marketing to lean management for SIM Professional Development.