This week, we will cover a topic that is a bit of a spin-off from a show on buzzwords that I recently did. A listener of the show was confused about buzzwords and buzzphrases often used in the innovation space and sent me an email. We will discuss the buzzphrase “out of the box thinking,” analyze it, and discuss how you can think outside of the box to gain an edge in the world today.
Out of the Box Thinking
The term “out of the box thinking” is a metaphor that means to think from a new perspective. It originally came from some management consulting firms that were trying to solve problems in new ways. The term was attached to a concept known as the nine-dot problem. The idea is a 3 x 3 grid of dots formed in the shape of a square, equaling nine dots. The challenge is to draw a line through all nine dots without retracing over a previous line or lifting your pen. You need to use out of the box thinking to solve this problem. Initially, four lines in sort of a triangle shape were commonly used. Next, someone came up with drawing three-wide lines going around the box, touching all the dots. Then, someone solved the problem with one very fat line.
If you’ve been a long-time listener of the show, you have heard me give the challenge of answering what half of thirteen is. If you answered 6.5, you’d get an A on your math test. On an innovation test, I’d give you a C-, because you solved it with one easy answer. You could write it out as 1 and 3 and split it vertically, creating two digits. You could also write it out as Roman Numeral thirteen and split it vertically, which gives you eleven and two. There are thousands of different ways to answer these types of questions. The key is to not stop at the most obvious answer or to say it does not have an answer. Part of thinking out of the box is to think differently and understand the problem from a different perspective.
Thinking Styles and Types
We each have our natural thinking styles. It’s important to know what your preferred style of thinking is, and if you are a mix of different styles. Let’s dig into what those thinking styles  are:
- Synthesist – These people are creative and open to a wide range of ideas. The synthesist is an interesting type of person that is always exploring new things.
- Idealist – These people are always working towards a big goal. They set the bar high for themselves and others around them. Idealists are great at achieving things that nobody thought could be done.
- Pragmatists – These people take the logical approach to problem-solving. They tend to be focused on immediate results and driven by quarterly or annual achievements.
- Analysts – These people are interested in the facts and data points. Analysts have a clear procedure for doing things. They love data and are big on metrics. These people get satisfaction from achieving success by using defined processes.
- Realist – These people tackle problems head-on. They don’t feel challenged by everyday ambiguity. These are the people who get stuff done in an organization.
Once you know your style, you need to figure out how you can think differently to achieve success.
‘Thinking differently’  is the key question to tackle once you know your thinking style. I’m now going to share seven ways you can think differently. The key is to utilize all seven of these approaches to be free of blind spots:
- Strategic Thinking – This helps prepare for uncertainty. It gives you a plan to prepare for the what-if situations. Strategic thinking puts you ahead of every situation that could occur.
- Inquisitive Thinking – Question everything. This causes people to think differently and look at problems differently. This can be applied to everything. Ask questions to gain knowledge.
- Big-Picture Thinking – This applies heavily to analysts. Think about the situation from another person’s lenses, whoever that may be. This gives you a different and valuable perspective.
- Focused Thinking – This shuts out the operations and takes away distractions. You need time to think away from the everyday busyness of society.
- Risk-Oriented Thinking – Think big and keep pushing the envelope.
- Shared Thinking – We don't know everything, so listen to what others are saying. Listen to what other people are thinking.
- Reflective Thinking – This allows you the bandwidth to see what's going on without getting emotional. You'll be able to see things with a fresh set of eyes.
How to Think Differently
When challenged to do “out of the box thinking,” there are a few ways you can approach it. Firstly, you need to utilize risk-oriented thinking. As a leader, you need to dream bigger than most. Whether you are a leader of teams or ideas, you need to think big. We tend to mentally apply a risk model to these situations, which needs to be eliminated from the thought process. You need to take all the risk constraints out of the scenario, whether it is financial, technology-based, etc. Once this is done, you will be more comfortable taking the necessary risks to be successful.
Next, you need to rely on shared thinking. Collaboration in the innovation space is critical. You need to get input from others because you are not always the smartest person in the room. Shared thinking can be hard but is necessary in some cases to accelerate your ability to “think outside the box.” Lastly, practice reflective thinking. We all love our ideas, as they are our “babies.” In some cases, we need to take a step back and take our emotions out of it. We need to distance ourselves from our ideas and look at other views as well. Set aside time to practice all of these thinking processes, and you will be able to successfully “think outside the box.”
To know more about your thinking style and how to think outside the box, listen to this week's show: Out Of The Box Thinking – Part 1