THINKING AND THE BOX
What comes to your mind when you hear the word – think or thinking?
We are (un)consciously programmed to believe that creative thinking can only be achieved when it is associated with a box. Referring to the box, we have two (2) different schools of thought:
Those who believe that creative thinking can only be done outside the box as contained in the catchphrase ‘think outside the box’.
Those who believe that creative thinking should be done inside the box as contained in the catchphrase ‘think inside the box’.
The more popular of the two is the ‘Think outside the box’ school of thought. The way the phrase is frequently used – especially by our bosses, parents or some other superior authority – can make one assume it contains some wonder thinking magic that will aid the ‘hearer’ reason better on the subject he/she is required to think on/about. Ironically, most people who use the catchphrase do not even know its history or origin.
Have you ever wondered what it means to think inside or outside the box? I have, severally. So I took my research to the dictionary and google. Permit me to walk you through my findings…
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Thinking means:
The action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc.
The activity of thinking about something, opinion or judgment
A way of thinking that is characteristic of a particular group, time period, etc.
Also, Wiktionary.org defines the word Think as:
To ponder, to go over in one’s head.
To communicate to oneself in one’s mind, to try to find a solution to a problem.
To guess; to reckon, to consider, judge, regard, or look upon (something) as.
An act of thinking; consideration (of something).
Thinking can refer to the act of producing thoughts or the process of producing thoughts. In spite of the fact that thought is a fundamental human activity familiar to everyone, there is no generally accepted agreement as to what thought is or how it is created. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Thinking)
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX vs THINK INSIDE THE BOX
I did some research to find out the origin of the two clichés’ of thinking and found these.
Think Outside The Box
In the early 1970s, a psychologist named J. P. Guilford conducted a study of creativity called the nine-dot puzzle. In the 9-dot puzzle, he challenged research subjects to connect all nine dots using just four straight lines without lifting their pencils from the page. At the first stage, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square. Even though they weren’t instructed to restrain themselves from considering such a solution, they were unable to “see” the white space beyond the square’s boundaries, (even those who eventually solved the puzzle). Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.
The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box. The idea went viral. Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box. (Culled from http://www.psychologytoday.com/).
The traditional view of creativity is that it is unstructured and doesn’t follow rules or patterns. Hence would-be innovators are told to “think outside the box.” According to this school of thought, thinking outside the box means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before.
Ironically, it’s a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in ways that aren’t clichéd (lifehack.org).
Think Inside The Box
To think inside the box as defined by idioms.thefreedictionary.com means:
“To think in traditional fashion, bound by old, nonfunctional, or limiting structures, rules, or practices.”
This second school of thought believes that creativity stems from ‘thinking inside the box’. According to them, it isn’t that people cannot come up with ‘out of the box’ unconventional ideas/solutions. But they are rather concerned that in the quest to think outside the box, some people have come up with too many ideas that either fail to add value and/or make life far harder than it has to be.
They believe that people are at their most creative when they focus on the internal aspects of a situation or problem—and when they constrain their options rather than broaden them. In support of the ‘Think inside the box’ school of thought, Christopher Peterson had this to say: “If you never venture outside the box, you will probably not be creative. But if you never get inside the box, you will certainly be stupid”. (Harsh? I know)
Paul B. Brown also had this to say about ‘thinking in the box’
I believe innovative ideas that you can make a reality are the biggest source of competitive advantage there is. I also believe you want to be extremely careful of justifying an idea, simply because it represents out of the box thinking. But next time you are tempted to think outside the box, ask yourself: Is that the best solution here?
My Thoughts and Opinion
As a Software Test Analyst, we were taught the importance of thinking outside the box (Black-box Testing) and thinking inside the box (White-box Testing). This is because, Software Testing relies heavily on a Tester’s ability to have critical eyes attuned to finding defects in an application. You can’t afford to focus ‘outside’ the box in order to catch rare bugs and over-look the ‘inside’ of the box, where some easily overlooked defects can be found. We need to have a balanced thinking, looking both within and outside the box, in order to catch defects wherever they are located.
Focusing on just one side – outside or inside, can lead to application failures because if we focus on ‘thinking outside the box,’ we may succeed in catching the difficult rare defects but we’ll likely miss out on catching the ‘little’ easy to spot defects ‘inside the box’ (the reverse is also true), which can eventually turn out to be the show-stoppers in the application.
As a creative thinker, I believe in leveraging on existing knowledge. That is, look at what has been done or said about a particular issue; examine it to ensure it is producing results or otherwise, before moving on to try out other untested thoughts. So if I am to take sides with any of the schools of thought, I will choose to ‘think inside the box’ first, before venturing outside of it.
I once met a wise elderly man who gave me some sound advice that has helped me. He said, “Your job requires creative thinking and creative thinking demands that you have to first exhaust all the creative ideas within the box before you start thinking outside the box.”
Hence, as much as it is ‘nice’ and adventurous to think outside the box, it is wisdom to first think of solutions that already exist for solving a particular or related issue (after all, nothing is new under the sun) before thinking of novel ideas for solving that issue.
However, if I am to think outside these two schools of thoughts, I’ll suggest we take away the box entirely.
I personally believe the concepts of thinking inside or outside the box, distracts our ability and focus to think creatively. This is because, once you think relative to a box, the mental image of a box brings on some level of limitation, consciously or unconsciously. So when next you are required to think, just think – leave the box out of it!
Written by ChinyereDistinguished Anoke.