Life Inside A Reshaped Box

Looking for new ideas? Do you believe you should think outside the box more often?

As it turns out, encouraging someone to “think outside the box” is pretty useless advice.

The phrase was popularized in the 1970s based on a puzzle used by researchers and management consultants. The puzzle challenged people to look at nine dots arranged in a 3X3 square and connect all the dots with just four straight lines – and without lifting the pencil from the page. If you’d like to try it yourself – stop reading a moment. I’ll wait.

If you’re frustrated, you can watch a video of one solution. As you can see, the key (and the source of the trope that comes out of it) is that you have to draw lines outside the boundaries of the original nine-dot box. On average, only about 20% of people get to a solution.

But here’s the interesting thing. Further experiments have shown that if someone explains beforehand that going “outside the box” is allowed, the number of people who solve the puzzle jumps only to about 25%.

In other words, simply telling people to think outside the box doesn’t give them the ability, or even desire, to do so.

As content marketers, we’re constantly challenged with innovating and creating all kinds of new ideas for our companies. One of the biggest frustrations I hear at workshops and from my clients is that management doesn’t allow (or encourage) them to think outside the box.

And it’s true. In business we basically live life inside a box. We create inside-the-box content and inside-the-box strategies for our inside-the-box brand.

But we can reshape the existing box and perhaps push on its edges a bit.

Instead of encouraging our teams to think outside the box – and work where there are no constraints – we might think about what’s possible within a reshaped box filled with constraints. In other words, we can give ourselves permission to create a big, feature-rich solution – using the constraints of our box as a starting idea – and then attempt to brainstorm all the challenges that solution might solve.

You just might design something that fits perfectly.

It’s your story. Tell it well.


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