‘Thinking outside the box’ is more than just a business cliché. It means approaching problems in new, previously unused ways; confronting situations differently and understanding your position in relation to any particular challenge in a manner you had never thought of before.
We are frequently told to do just that but you may wonder as to why this might be helpful. You may have completed a specific task many times in a certain way - so why the need to change?
You may also have been told to ‘think laterally’. Maybe you are so firmly ‘inside a particular box’ that you are completely unaware of this position. So let us apply some creative thinking. In a commonly used English phrase, ‘there are more ways to skin a cat’ meaning that there is usually more than one solution to any given problem. But, and here is the point, one has to have an open mind and a willingness to learn from others and not to take any critique as a personal criticism of you, but rather as constructive and creative feedback.
Confronting problems in a different way
So how do you confront problems in a different way and why should it be necessary to ‘think outside of the box’ anyway?
The key is to identify the ‘box’ in any given situation i.e. the often comfortable constructs that determine your operating boundaries, both physical and mental i.e. those which are real and those which are merely restricted by mindset. Then think about alternatives, and sometimes an unconventional solution that before you would not have even considered.
When one is faced with a challenging problem, it is all too easy to focus on the specific facts and the ‘obvious solutions’ without making the effort to take yourself into another zone of thinking in which alternative, and possibly more advantageous, solutions are suggested. In order to ‘think outside of the box’, one must ‘brainstorm’ every possibility – even those that you would normally dismiss, because from those, other ideas can emanate, take shape and provide beneficial and/or profitable solutions.
Here are 6 ways for you to push your thinking beyond its everyday limits so that you can start thinking ‘outside of the box’ and begin to bring greater creativity and innovation into your life:
1. Learn the terminology for modes of ‘thinking outside of box’. Some of these are ‘reframing’, ‘lateral thinking’ and ‘changing mindsets’.
2. Recognise the issue. Take some time to reflect on the perceived existing barriers that are effectively stopping you from addressing a particular problem in a different way. Imagine that the road ahead of you is unexpectedly closed for repairs. Is there only one way to get to your required destination or are there a number of different routes that you could take? Which one is quicker? Which one has speed cameras? Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, benefits and drawbacks and you need to evaluate each alternative on its merits as it affects you.
3. Once the situation is identified, outline all the solutions you can think of that might bring about a satisfactory conclusion. Speak to other people. Challenge assumptions. Learn what inhibits your ability to change. Examine new perspectives.
4. Ask a child for advice. Children can sometimes think and speak with an ignorance of convention that is often helpful. That doesn’t mean they are cleverer than you but they can have a fresh viewpoint and don’t mind speaking their mind and have a freshness of perspective.
5. Take regular vacations to refresh your thoughts, your body, your mind and your soul.
6. I find that taking a shower can give me new ideas and inspirational thinking! I don’t really understand it but there would seem to be some kind of psychic link between showering and creativity.
My advice, in essence is: teach yourself to look at problems with a new perspective. Never be dismissive of alternative solutions before you have thoroughly thought them through and don’t take it personally if someone comes to you with an idea that you may have missed.
Thinking ‘out of the box’ can make you a valuable member of staff as well as someone who is inventive and fun to be around.
Happy creative thinking.