Don’t just think outside the box, create new ones

“Just think outside the box” a manager says to a team member.

When was the last time you had your own thought for the company, or even better yet, for yourself?

Thinking outside the box to us means taking a step back and not letting the limitations of the current influence ALL your work.

Another way to look at this is being maximally creative.

Can you step back far enough from your current activities and thoughts to really brainstorm outside the box?

Unfortunately, this can be quite hard for many people to do. We get so caught up in the assumptions and limitations of our day-to-day work that it can be very difficult to get outside this “box”. There is also a significant amount of risk in proposing “outside the box” ideas. Will they be accepted? Rejected? Laughed at?

There is a quote from Robert H Schuller that asks, “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

In our opinion the risk and associated fear of failure are both functions of the “box”. As long as your ideas are tied to the current situation, even if they’re outside it, there will be this inherent stress.

Only by breaking from the limitations and assumptions of the current situation can you experience the free-flowing creativity that generates true innovation. Therefore we say:

“Don’t just think outside the box, create new boxes!”


Action: Flipping Assumptions Exercise

One way to create a new box is to brainstorm as if your situation was the exact opposite.

For example:

Issue: We need more revenue
Elements of the current box: 
  1. Our organization is an academic non-profit
  2. There are many layers of bureaucracy to work through for new projects
  3. There is very little money for new-project development
Elements of the opposite box:
  1. Our organization is a for-profit corporation
  2. The structure is flat and streamlined for new projects
  3. There is a healthy project development budget
  • Poll staff for new project ideas
  • Have a new project contest
  • Find new markets/applications for existing products and services


Now you try:

Elements of the current box: 
Elements of the opposite box:


Check out this video about product development company IDEO. They have built a robust process for facilitating creativity and flipping assumptions. In this case they are reinventing the shopping cart.

Video (20min total)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Coming Soon

Be sure to catch our next post: “Don’t respond to email…yet”

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7 thoughts on “Don’t just think outside the box, create new ones

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