“Thinking outside the box” refers to thinking creatively, outside the usual parameters, finding original solutions to a pressing problem. It’s often used by managers to inspire innovation – if only it were that simple!
The phrase turned up in the 60s and 70s and is traced back to a famous 9 dot puzzle first published in 1914 which instructs you to connect a grid of 9 dots with four straight lines – if you haven’t seen the puzzle before it’s presented here (with the solution).
Initially the puzzle seems impossible to solve until you realise that you don’t have to restrict yourself to the area within the nine dots. Once you think outside that box you can solve the puzzle easily.
If you’ve seen the puzzle before then try thinking of how you could connect all nine dots with fewer lines, can you do it with just one line? (It is possible; in fact there is more than one solution.)
The phrase may not inspire innovation within companies but it has inspired cartoons. It has also been linked to Pandora’s box and used to inspire some wonderful art. A fluid explosion of colour called “Thinking outside pandora’s box” by Tim Parish, cheeky fabric art by Susan Else, and subversive photography by Holger Eleby.
So it seems to be a term that’s well understood and that does inspire artists and cartoonists. How useful is it in the business world?