We tend to think of creativity as some wild thing that needs to be captured or tamed. Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg argue that “outside the box” thinking is not only wrong but keeps most of us from benefiting from being more creative in our lives. Their work points out how creativity is really a skill that can be learned.
“Outside the box” thinking became all the rage in the 1980s after a management consulting team used a nine dot box puzzle to illustrate their point that employees needed to look farther beyond obvious things, and to try thinking beyond them.
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While this seems like good advice, it is actually harmful because this goes back to our need to tame the Elephant by making things more concrete and clear-cut, rather than wide open and limitless.
In other words, as Barry Schwartz points out in the Paradox of Choice, often having more choice actually keeps us from moving forward.
Recently, Boyd and Goldenberg published Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results which shows case study after case study of folks who have used this methodology whether they knew it or not.
Although they broke this down into five key thinking tools - Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Task Unification, and Attribute Dependency - I’d argue that in true Pareto fashion 80% of the creativity solutions come from using Division. So, that’s what we’ll cover in more detail to show how to apply some of the key principles.
Basically, Division uses the idea that by dividing a product and/or its components and rearranging them you can form a new product with greater capabilities than the sum of the parts. By considering different structures - either as a whole or individual components - and dividing into different pieces allows you to rebuild in new novel ways.
For example, normally the airline check-in process was considered a linear process - until Southwest looked at ways that the steps could be changed. In fact, this approach allowed them to accomplish 10 minute turnarounds while the industry standard was one hour.
But more importantly the idea is not to look at limits as obstacles but as opportunities to find creative solutions.
Instead of looking at the few ingredients available in the kitchen how can you create a new dish? I’d argue that some of the most popular recipes have their roots from simply using what the cook had available to them.
Chicken marengo is said to come from Napolean’s chef foraging in town and creating the dish from what he could gather after the Battle of Marengo.
According to legend, the Emperor enjoyed the dish so much he had it served to him after every battle, and later when the chef was better-supplied and tried to substitute ingredients like adding wine to the recipe, Napoleon refused to accept it, believing that such changes would bring him bad luck.
So next time instead of trying to look “outside the box,” try looking at your situation, not as limits but possibilities.
So what are ways you can be more creative by looking “inside the box”?