Lakshmi Sreenivasan

Out of the box thinking a clichéd phrase popularised after Psychologist J P Guildford conducted an experiment on Creativity. Guildford most eminently renowned study was the nine-dot puzzle in the early 1970’s. The task was to connect all the nine dots using only 4 straight lines, without lifting their pen/pencils from the page.

Lakshmi Sreenivasan

Today, most of us would be aware of the couple of solutions to this problem, however back in the 1970s, a mere 20% could only break out of the deceptive and limited perception. The rest of the 80% unintentionally remained restricted in the imaginary squared space, repeatedly attempting and working within the squared space, almost blindsided by the invisible square. And so the phrase ‘Out of the Box thinking’ became synonymous to Creativity and Innovation, as the solution to this nine-dot problem was only possible when one extends the line beyond the dots.

Clarke Burnham with Kenneth Davis, and Joseph Alba with Robert Weisberg—conducted another trial using the same puzzle but an altered study method, this time one of the 2 groups were told that the solutions necessitated them to draw the lines outside the imaginary box bordering the array of dots. The results showed only an appalling 5 percent increment, which shows despite of knowing that they need to think out of the box, the groups could not find the solution and performance remained unchanged.

Is this any different in today’s time? Most organizations and managers encourage out of the box thinking and still the employees fail to find creative solution. The question is why? Because, most of us fail to find where is the box in the first place in order to go out of the illusory box. And secondly, we are so busily engrossed in looking for out of the box solutions that we fail to look at the obvious.

My Design thinking course with MIT, got me thinking deeper into Innovation and Creativity giving a whole new aspect of Innovation. When we think of innovation and creativity, organisations like Apple, Alibaba, Google, Instagram, many such names come to our mind. But are they really thinking out of the box? May be not.

Instead what Apple, Alibaba, Google, Instagram or many such companies did was “Think within the Box”. Thinking within the box requires one to know every detail , theory, study relevant to the problem, and then play within the given rules and instructions. So its like the Lego blocks; we all are familiar with the various shapes and types of the Lego blocks, but one can play around with various combinations to create amazing designs.

The Game of chess again is another example of Thinking within the box. One must know every rule, every move of every piece. The 8 by 8 matrix of the chessboard with 16 pieces, one can make and play numerous moves. And you only make these moves, if you are aware about the rules of the Game

Chemistry- the branch of science concerned with the substances, the analysis and exploration of their properties and reactions, and the use of such reactions to form new substances. Every innovation in the field of Chemistry is a testimony to thinking within the box; the box being the chemical properties, reactions, compositions, theories etc.

If one would pay close attention, all creativity and innovation is the interplay of the various elements within the given framework by being absolutely familiar with the elements, and then using the elements in a distinctive, unlikely permutation and combination.

With this restrictive assumption that out-of-the-box thinking spurs creativity, the advice to think Out of the box is useless and counter productive at most times, since every one is pushed to try hard inorder to find a solution thereby wasting time, effort and energy.

A simple experiment states conceptual link between thinking outside the box and creativity was a myth. Although in real life we don’t have find real boxes, but we do find numerous situations where a creative breakthrough is staring and gawking you in the face, and we fail to see that they are much more common than we probably think.

So, Thinking within the box is real and much productive.

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