Tag Archives: think metaphorically

Think Metaphorically– Outside the Box, Inside the Box, Beyond the Box: Creativity is a Different Way of Thinking…

‘Think outside the box’ is an overused cliché… Nevertheless, it does capture the idea that creativity means trying and exploring different ideas… It’s heard again and again, an executive admonishing a team to ‘think outside of the box’… Of course, the intention is to inspire and to ‘think creatively’, but the problem is that it’s an uninspiring, uncreative, unencouraging way to say it… In fact, it can be darn right unproductive…

According to Tom Stevens; cliché is antithesis of creativity, and ‘out of the box’ is as cliché as it comes. Everyone knows what it means, but it’s hardly a trigger for ideas that are– different, creative, breakthrough… The human brain does respond to metaphors but in very subtle and profound ways, e.g.; if a ‘box’ is a metaphor for your experience then ‘out-of-the-box‘ suggests that you trying to discover something new and totally outside of that experience… The trouble is that thinking about things outside of your experience is almost impossible… Asking someone to ‘think outside the box’ is like asking someone to list unforeseeable events…

In the article To Think Outside The Box, Go Outside The Box by Dileep Rao writesMetaphors can help make sense of the unfamiliar by comparing them to something understandable. By looking at the familiar with new eyes, you might realize that you are blind to the obvious, or you forgot an essential element, or you discovered something entirely different… Hence metaphor can change your viewpoint by forcing you to multiplicity, i.e.; looking at things from many points of view– by re-framing situations, metaphors help creative thinking… 

One of the  most common metaphor or cliché in business is to ‘think outside the box’ (OTB)… And even though many business cultures encourage employees to ‘think’ OTB… but they really do not ‘go’ OTB… For many organization, the reluctance or inability, to shake core business habits by going OTB, i.e.; from established behaviors to a more riskier ones– can be dangerous, especially when revolutionary trends can seriously disrupt the organization. Hence in order to ‘think’ outside the box, it helps to ‘be’ outside the box… Here are a few reasons:

  • No constraints: When you are on the outside you are not limited or influenced by established behaviors… hence your thinking can seek different ways to get things done…
  • Blank-slate thinking: When you are on the outside you have a blank-slate– relatively little extra baggage that can seriously influence your thinking… hence you can create new or different rules based on the reality of situation…
  • Revolutionary trending: When you are on the outside you can adopt new revolutionary advances to gain a competitive edge rather than seeking small, evolutionary changes… Small change is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…
  • Bottom-up analyzing: When you are on the outside you can work for the bottom-up to determine how to make customers happier without the constraints of existing practices…

In the article Think Outside the Box and Creativity by Douglas Eby  writes: What if you could boost creativity by taking metaphors literally, such as; ‘thinking outside the box’, or ‘on the one hand, then on the other hand’? Here is where Angela Leung and her colleagues created experiments with people acting out the metaphors, literally: In one experiment, each participant was seated either, inside or outside of a five-by-five-foot cardboard box. The two environments were set-up to be the same in every way, and people didn’t feel claustrophobic in the box. Participants were told that it was a study on different work environments… Each person was given a widely used test for creativity; the finding showed that those who were ‘outside the box’ tested better, than those who were ‘inside the box’...

In another experiment, participants were asked to join two halves of a coaster that had been cut (before the test)– this representation was to demonstrate; putting ‘two + two’ together. People who acted out the metaphor displayed more convergent thinking– a component of creativity that requires putting together various scenarios, then settling on one that works… Another experiments found that walking around ‘randomly’ generated more original ideas than walking in a ‘preset-line’. And still another test found that there is truth in ‘on the one hand, then on the other hand’…

All this suggests that there is some validation to metaphors that are used when talk about creativity… According to Angela Leung; having a leisurely walk outdoors or freely pacing around helps clear the mindset– it’s getting-up and walking away from your cubicle (the box) that can also create space for creative thinking…

In the article Thinking Outside the Box by Joycelyn Campbell writes: If you are stymied by the prospect of ‘thinking outside the box’, you may be relieved to find out that you cannot actually do it… The box is the mental model through which you view and interpret the world. You are always ‘inside the box’, in one compartment or another… The ‘box’ is a symbol of constraint– what you see, what you think, how you feel, what you do… The ‘box’ has implication of rigidity, squareness, and symbolizes constrained, unimaginative thinking… In contrast to the open and unrestricted ‘out of the box‘… Thinking  creatively is being  unimpeded by orthodox and conventional constraints…

The metaphor– ‘thinking outside the box’ has become so hackneyed as to be rather meaningless. The ‘box’ has come to represent all things that limit thinking, so ‘thinking outside the box’ means being able to transcend those limitations… Out-of-the-box thinking doesn’t require people to rewire their brains or take courses in creativity… To think outside the box requires only to ask: Is there a different way to think about an issue or thing?

It’s a myth: researchers have found that the conceptual link between ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘creativity’ fails to produce the desired creativity… And far from being hindrance– past experience, training can be a key to creative thinking… According to Frans Johansson;  instead of trying to think outside the box, people are better served by deliberately– stretching, expanding, learning, exposing… oneself to new situations, different viewpointsNew and different ideas are not spun from thin air, creativity involves; synthesizing, remixing, reenvisioning what’s already inside the box. Hence creativity is all about; building a better box, a different box…