What does ‘Thinking out of the Box’ actually mean?

Do people actually know what it means to think out of the box?

This is a statement that is regularly made by various coaches, business advisors, mentors and business people in general. We have all come across it at some point, whether we have been advised to do it, or whether we have advised others to do the same. However, when a number of people were asked what their idea of ‘thinking out of the box’ actually means, there were a number of varied responses.

For some, it simply meant expanding one’s ideas to gain a different perspective. For others it related to a process of thinking differently to the way a person had ever thought before. Another thought was that it meant looking at the bigger picture. So let’s explore this a little further.

Here’s a great example. There is a myth that owls can turn their heads a full 360 degrees. However, according to one falconry expert, this is not the case. An owl can turn its head 270 degrees in each direction, but not all the way around. Now, if you look at this from a different perspective, the fact that the owl can look to the left by turning its head 270 degrees to the left, then look forward, then look to the right by turning its head 270 degrees to the right, means that it has in fact done a total turn of 540 degrees! So by thinking out of the box, by looking at the scenario from another perspective, we get a totally different result.

To relate this to a business, thinking out of the box could infer looking at a business problem from a different perspective. It could mean looking at the way in which you operate from a different angle. Instead of looking from the inside – your comfort zone – get out of the box and look at the problem from the outside in. Maybe you could look at it from the client’s stand point. Maybe consider the point of view of your employees. Whichever way you choose, get out of your comfort zone and take on board others’ viewpoints.

Another interesting interpretation of ‘thinking out of the box’ is to look at the bigger picture. Again, get out of that small box we create for ourselves. Look at the wider picture, the longer term view, and adjust to bigger thinking.

Others have interpreted ‘thinking out of the box’ as getting out of your comfort zone. Public speaking is probably the best example of getting out of one’s comfort zone for most people. Well, think out of the box. Consider doing something that is uncomfortable. Think about doing an aspect of your business in a totally different way.

Thinking out of the box can mean any of these explanations. Basically it means looking at a problem from a differing point of view. It doesn’t matter how you go about this, but by looking at another solution, even if uncomfortable, and doing something different, you may come up with a solution to solving the problem and moving forward.

Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity should be ‘doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.’ In other words, do something different if you want a different outcome. Look and think out of the box.

So how do you ‘Think out of the Box’?

In the previous article we looked at what was meant by ‘thinking out of the box’. It has been interpreted in a number of ways; looking at a problem from a different perspective, looking at the bigger picture, or getting out of one’s comfort zone to solve a problem. But how do you get out of that box to start ‘thinking out of the box’?

There is a corporate expression – ‘Blue sky thinking’ – which relates to thinking that is not grounded or in touch with the realities of the present. In other words, open-minded thinking. Let’s have a look at how to think out of the box.

Brainstorming is a term that was popularised by the American advertising executive and author, Alex Faickney Osborn in his 1953 book, ‘Applied Imagination’. He defined it as a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. It involves expanding your mind with the aim of looking at things from a different perspective.

Using this brainstorming technique and working in a group often results in new solutions to problems. Invite people from differing backgrounds, or even other companies, who are willing to spend half an hour to an hour of their time to explore the problem. Make sure someone is recording the process. Pose the question and look for ways together in how to go about solving it. Let the ideas flow. They can be as wacky as they come. Any idea is good. Have fun in the process. Some wacky ideas can trigger off others and become the catalyst for great ideas that can be implemented into your business. Never underestimate the power of brainstorming.

Brainstorming is an excellent way to bringing about ‘thinking out of the box’ thinking. Another method is the Survey method. Ask and gain the opinions of your customers or your employees on a specific issue. Ascertain how they would deal with the problem. Take advice from trusted colleagues from different backgrounds. Gain their perspective.

Another method of thinking out of the box is the Mentor method. As a mentee you would seek the advice and guidance from a person or friend who is accomplished in the area that you want to achieve success in. They have already reached your aspired levels of success. A mentor will guide you as the less experienced person towards modelling their positive behaviours, and therefore their experiences. A good example of this would be in the field of sports where a mentee would take advice and follow the positive behaviours of a gold medallist in his sport. They would study their techniques, take advice and look and think about the sport form their perspective.

A word of warning! All these methods of thinking out of the box have proved to be incredibly powerful. They have resulted in great ideas and positive results. But when the brainstorming session is over, or when the survey is complete, or the advice has been given, you must TAKE ACTION!