Thinking Out of the Box - One Technique
What does it mean to think outside the box? If you are a regular
visitor to the website or subscriber to the Brainpower Newsletter,
you know that I have answered that many times. It means getting
outside the usual ways of looking at things (that's what the
box is), hopefully to arrive at creative and useful ideas and
solutions. Enough of definitions, though. below I demonstrate
one of the many ways to actually accomplish this new frame of
This is a simple technique for "out of the box"
thinking. Start by identifying each of the elements of the "box."
Then consider any alternatives that come to mind, even crazy
ones (or especially those). Most of the resulting ideas will
not be useful, but work with them and some may be made into ideas
that aren't so crazy in the end. They may lead to great innovations
or just plain useful changes. A specific example will help show
how this works in practice.
Let's suppose that you want to stop smoking. You're looking
for a creative new way to do this, so first you identify the
ideas, assumptions and solutions that are common to this goal.
They are the basis of the "box" you want to get out
of, and include the following:
- Quitting is a matter of willpower and force of personality.
- Quitting smoking is a personal goal for yourself.
- You can pay for some program to help you.
- You need to stop smoking.
- Overcoming this addiction is difficult.
Though there are other common ideas and solutions, these will
get us started. As for the first issue, you might ask, "Why
is it a test of willpower?" The question could lead you
to consider the easiest ways to quit that habit. Hypnotism might
help with that, as would not being around others who smoke for
a while, so there is no temptation. These ideas are not too creative,
so we move on.
A personal goal? It's not necessary to keep that perspective,
is it? Lots of people want to quit, perhaps even a few of your
friends and family. Could you make this a group goal? We hold
that thought in mind for the moment, and challenge the next idea:
paying for a program. We ask "What if a program paid me
to quit?" A crazy idea at first, but it leads to an out-of-the-box
solution: A group challenge and wager.
Four friends who want to quit smoking each put a thousand
dollars in a special account and after a year those who have
not smoked a cigarette get to split the money. If two succeed,
they each get two thousand dollars. If it's only one, he or she
will get the whole four thousand with interest. The money provides
motivation, and the competitive nature of the challenge helps
Do you need to quit smoking? We don't normally ask that, but
is there a way to continue smoking without the health concerns?
Switch slowly to cigarettes with less nicotine instead of quitting
"cold turkey?" If you discover that the sensation of
the cigarette in your mouth is as important as the nicotine,
you might eventually "smoke" them without lighting
Now, almost everyone assumes it has to be difficult to quit
smoking. What if it was easy? Nothing comes to mind with that
question at first so we play with the idea and ask, "What
if it was difficult... to smoke?" Turn the idea around!
A perfect out of the box question, and it immediately suggests
the follow-up; "How do we make it difficult to smoke? You
and your spouse could pay five dollars per cigarette into a special
account to be split after two years. The one who smokes less
will gain the most, and the pain of the high cost will make it
more difficult to light up.
What about a drug that that causes you to get immediately
nauseous when you smoke, making it not only difficult, but almost
impossible. It might be something like the drug "anabuse"
which makes alcoholics vomit if they drink anything with alcohol
in it. If it was in the form of an injection that lasts for a
month, you couldn't "forget" to take your pill. Now,
there's a money maker if that drug can be found.
To review: 1. List all the usual ideas and assumptions; 2.
Consider them one-by-one; 3. Alter them, challenge them, look
for opposites, and do anything else to find a new approach. This
is one of the simplest, most systematic techniques for getting
your thinking outside of the box.