But what does thinking outside the box really mean?

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing the phrase “think outside the box.” Every year, this phrase usually makes the top lists of business speak / jargon / overused things people say in the workplace. I highly doubt it will go away, so maybe it’s useful to define what the phrase actually means.

Most people use this phrase when they want creative ideas.  Last Fall, I took a course called Creativity360 as part of Rice University’s Continuing Studies program. One of the lectures was dedicated to  Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace where Jing Zhou of Rice University discussed how creativity in the workplace is defined as the combination of something new and useful.

But for someone to come up with something new and useful, Jing explained that they have to meet a few criteria.

  1. They have to have a basic understanding of their field. You can’t solve for something you don’t know.
  2. You have to have creative skills.
  3. And you have to have the motivation to solve for whatever it is you are working on.

What I find is that #1 and #3 are pieces of cake for most people, but #2 is where people get hung up, myself included. I believe that everyone is creative and that it’s a skill that can be learned and improved  with practice. So my favorite part of this lecture was the part where we got tips on how to actually “think outside the box.”

And I think that the better phrase is to “drop your assumptions” because that’s what thinking outside the box really means.

What are your underlying assumptions about whatever it is you’re working on? If you remove those assumptions, what can you do? If that assumption wasn’t a thing, what would you want and what could you achieve?

Asking these questions is much more valuable and can apply to much more than just the workplace.

 

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