Stop “thinking outside the box” do this instead

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the phrase “Thinking outside the box” I could park my yacht at the Port of Hercule in Monaco.  I would even bet you have heard this phrase at least once in the past week.  I have yet to see said box.  I don’t know the shape, size, color, or composition of this box but I keep hearing a lot about it.

“Think outside the box” – a metaphor for shifting our perspective or to do something new has turned into the default phrase for we don’t know what to do next we just need a solution.  We have xyz problem and we need to “think outside the box” to solve it. Essentially you are saying that we need to jump right to a solution that is different instead of focusing on the problem at hand first. All too often I have seen groups jump to “thinking outside the box” which yields nothing more than Post It Notes filled with vague ideas with little to no practical applications.

Don’t get me wrong there is a time and place for shifting perspectives, however most people just want to jump right to a solution before understanding the problem. Albert Einstein stated “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”  How can we help ourselves spend more time thinking about the problem and less time aimlessly “thinking outside box”.

Here is one simple technique you can use to slow down to speed up.  Whenever someone suggests you “think outside the box” ask them to write down “what needs to change and why?” Make sure not to provide a solution to what needs to change.  Give yourself/them 3 minutes to write this down on a piece of paper.  Why on paper you ask?  This will force your brain into conscious processing where you actually think deeply.  After the 3 minutes share back what you wrote.  This simple exercise can provide more clarity in under 10 minutes than 10 meetings do. Often times during the sharing of what was written simple solutions become readily apparent.  If there is not clear solution then use structured ideation exercises like lightning demos, SCAMPER, crazy eights, etc.  You will find that your ideation is much more productive as you will have a deeper understanding of the problem.

Try out this technique next time you hear the phrase “thinking outside the box”!