An article in Fast Company magazine notes the advice by consultants to “think outside the box” is “about as cliched as it gets,” according to Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The origin of the ubiquitous phrase, the article says, “is generally attributed to consultants in the 1970s and 1980s who tried to make clients feel inadequate by drawing nine dots on a piece of paper and asking them to connect the dots without lifting their pen, using only four lines.
“(Hint: You have to think outside the — oh, you know.)”
From “Outside the Box”: The Inside Story, by Martin Kihn | June 1, 2005, Fast Company.
[The image is from post: Think outside the box on the blog 'thnik again! - mathematical dialogues aimed to confuse']
It may be an overused, cliched expression, but it can still be convenient shorthand for divergent thinking.
Therapist Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC comments, “Gifted people tend to be independent and place a high value on autonomy and self-determination. They have the capacity to think outside the box and the drive to be the best they can be. Some people call this entelechy.”
Stephanie Chandler, author of From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur notes that when she left her high-stress job at a Silicon Valley company in 2003, she “planned to write novels and articles for women’s magazines. Then I discovered my passion for all-things-small-business. I have since written countless articles and numerous books on business and marketing topics.
“So my advice is to think outside the box when figuring out what you want to do with your life. Take what you love to do and become a consultant, trainer, author or whatever! The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the rewards are incredible.”
[Quotes from article Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, by Marnie Pehrson.]
The stimulating Think Jar Collective website has “content on enhancing creative thinking and a collection of people from diverse disciplines who are intersecting ideas and aiming to spark fresh thinking leading to relevant social innovation.”
In his post on the site: “Five Embodied Metaphors…” Jeremy Dean notes, “People often describe creative thinking in the form of metaphors. We talk about “thinking outside the box,” “putting two and two together,” and “seeing both sides of the problem.”
“But what if we could boost our creativity by taking these metaphors literally? We know our minds interact in all sorts of interesting ways with our bodies — what if we enacted these metaphors physically?”
He refers to research by Angela Leung and her colleagues and their findings on “how a person can become more creative simply by changing their posture, establishing a link between creativity and what psychologists refer to as “embodied cognition.”
Here are a couple of excerpts from Dean’s post:
1. On one hand…on the other hand
Creative ideas are often arrived at by bringing together two apparently unrelated thoughts. When we can think about a problem in terms of two different sides, we are more likely to find a way to integrate them. This is encapsulated by the phrase “On the one hand…on the other hand…”
So, what if while trying to solve a problem you physically hold up one hand followed by the other? Might this send a signal to the unconscious to encourage it to consider the problem from more than one angle?
Leung and her colleagues found that test subjects who gestured with both hands came up with more novel ideas than those who gestured with just one hand.
2. Literally sit outside a box
“Thinking outside the box” is an awfully overused cliché. Nevertheless, it does capture the idea that in creativity you have to try and explore new areas.
In their research, Leung’s team had participants literally either sitting in boxes or sitting next to boxes while doing creativity tests. Remarkably, the researchers found that this simple manipulation worked.
People who were literally sitting outside of a box came up with more ideas than those sitting in the box.
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Last reviewed: 7 May 2012