Thinking outside the box is a method of creative problem-solving that involves breaking out of the boundaries of the status quo, usually in order to spark creativity and innovation. It can be used to solve problems by testing new hypotheses, by redefining old problems, or by framing a problem in an entirely new way.”.
The idea is to break out of assumptions and constraints that are being set up for you – even if they are helpful – or else you will quickly get stuck within your own mind and ideas. The process involves forcing yourself outside your comfort zone.
When thinking outside of the box you can bring about new insights and different perspectives. It includes thinking about what is and isn’t working, identifying assumptions and constraints, finding new solutions by changing your perspective or outside the definition of your problem. It takes you from “thinking inside the box” to “thinking outside the box”.
How to think outside of the box
It is a good idea to start by trying to identify the conventions and assumptions held about a certain subject, whether it is new or old; you need to identify whatever seems to be normal about the issue.
Here are some ways to think outside the box:
1. Break the rules: Challenge assumptions and boundaries
Break rules and challenge conventions. There are as many ways of defining a word as there are people who want to define it. Take the word limit, for example, some believe that the word is a “myth”, while others believe that it is un-American. Break the rules and challenge convention to discover new possibilities and insights that you may not have thought of before.
2. Ask questions of yourself and others
Ask yourself and others why they believe something to be true, try to understand as many points of view as you can. Look at the problem from multiple perspectives, not just your own.
A great example is how Richard Branson tried to reinvent Virgin Airlines, he told his team “I want people who think out of the box…We want all that clever stuff about designing an aeroplane seat that is more comfortable when you’re flying for five hours” (Time Magazine, June 29th 2001). Try to look at what you believe to be true and then ask yourself why do you believe it, can it be true for other people?
Asking questions is a great way of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions on a subject, and then you can expand on other possibilities that may be available to you. It also helps to give your mind the freedom to explore all of the possible solutions. So ask questions, keep asking questions until you’ve exhausted all of them. Then ask more.
3. Get out of your comfort zone
When it comes to breaking the boundaries you need to actually do something in order to stretch your limits. This can include any number of things, like taking the train instead of the plane or drawing instead of writing. Taking action will help open your mind up and see things from another perspective.
By putting yourself out there, by breaking down barriers you allow yourself to see things from different perspectives. If you like to challenge yourself and take actions that are outside of your comfort zone. Get yourself out of your comfort zone by doing something completely different, something most people don’t do. This can help open you up to new ideas and challenge you to think outside the box.
There are many different ways of breaking the rules, ranging from taking a risk to challenging conventionality. Sometimes it’s best to not take action right away, but instead, think about how your actions will affect change in the future. This can include thinking of bigger ideas that may have an impact on society and global issues if they were fully implemented.
4. Frame your problem
Think about what you believe to be the objective of an issue and then frame it in a way that you can later break down. This will help you to deal with the issue from a better perspective and give you new insights on how to solve it.
It is impossible for us to know every aspect of our own lives, every assumption, or every boundary on a subject, so in order to think outside the box, we need to break these boundaries down when we are tackling a certain problem.
Consider the following example to illustrate this point:
“It is impossible for us to know every aspect of our own lives, every assumption, or every boundary on a subject”.
The problem statement “My car is backed up and I can’t leave until it’s fixed” has several assumptions that are being set in place by the problem statement. The problem statement is saying that the car is backed up to the point that it has to be fixed, which we’ll assume means it’s not moving.
”Here are some general assumptions being made.”
We can use these assumptions and frame the problem in another way: “I want to be able to drive on a street without having to wait for traffic lights.”
”Here are some different assumptions being made. These assumptions may or may not be true. It does not matter, what does matter is that we have more creative boundaries to work with.”
Again, we need to be careful NOT to jump the gun into problem-solving. What you need to do is first consider the problem statement and then think of assumptions and constraints set within it. Then you can try your best to think outside the box.
Remember, you need to be patient, continue thinking about the problem statement from a different perspective until you find a solution that will work for you.
Try to help yourself by framing your problem in a way that is simple and easy for you to understand it. What helps me is imagining a big black empty space in my mind, which I use to write down problems and then try to organize them into categories; this helps me organize my thoughts so I can focus on solutions.