Curious about where the phrase out of the box comes from?
In the 1930s, American industrial psychologist Norman Maier coined the phrase after the famous 9-dot puzzle, as part of his work on problem solving. Maier asked his students to draw four continuous, unbroken lines through nine dots. But no lifting the pencil!
I don’t think I’m spoiling the answer by saying that to solve the problem, you have to think outside the ‘visual box’ of the 9 dots. The clue to the puzzle’s solution demonstrated Meier’s hypothesis. People often use assumptions, perceived limitations and self-restrictions to prevent their natural problem-solving abilities.
A prospective client last week asked if ‘in the box thinking’ was bad. Generally no – but it depends upon the topic itself and what you’re trying to accomplish. Many professions and occupations need consistency more than they need creativity. For example: law, science or accounting (Enron notwithstanding).
At the same time, don’t expect new outcomes if you only apply old solutions to old problems. That was the point behind Einstein’s definition of insanity.
Instead, think of in the box thinking as going by the rules, using existing or standard policies, or following common methodologies. As it’s been said before, only after you know and understand the rules can you break them – or, in other words, to think out of the box.
More important, if you’re going to ask someone else to think out of the box – then you too must think beyond your own assumptions, restrictions and limitations as well. Otherwise, it’s a pointless exercise.
Figured out the answer?
If you’re a smart cookie and can solve the nine-dot puzzle, put your genius to work on a new puzzle. Try thinking ‘out of the triangle.’ Can you create four triangles from six lines of any length. Unlike the 9-dot puzzle, the lines here don’t have to be continuous.
If you don’t know the answers to either puzzle, go here.