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Is “Outside-the-box” thinking always recommendable?

I think that we all have experienced the feeling that the constrains of a group, organisational setting, productline, portfolio, company is limitations for the “creative”process we are facing in many different braindump-sessions. You could call it “Inside-the-box”-thinking.

Management often preach “Outside-the-box”-thinking as part of different creative exercises and I feel pretty sure that you have been part of these kinds of experiments. We all have, haven’t we?

But is “Outside-the-box” thinking always recommendable?

Few months back I discovered a “Box”-description – “Big-box-thinking”. The three alternatives differs like this:

A. “Inside-the-box”
Creativity too constrained by operational and financial restrictions.

B. “Outside-the-box”
Unconstrained brainstorming too often leads to designs that are not feasible.

C. “Big-box-thinking”
Appropriately broad success metrics enable creativity and innovation.

The authors recommend that the design team be “immersed in consumer and manufacturing reality from the word Go.” In this way, a “sweet spot” can be defined: an alignment of what consumers want and are willing to pay for with what the business can make at a profit. This lets the design team know the parameters within which they need to work and gives power to the spark of creative innovation.

Knowing your parameters is great, but even better is learning how to broaden that “sweet spot” and increase the creative possibilities. They call this Big Box Thinking, because it's a way to bridge the divide of the conservative in-the-box, supply-chain perspective and out-of-the-box creativity.

So, have you actually been a part of an “Outside-the-box”-session and what was actually the implemented result? Or any experience with the "Big-Box"?

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Great to see the post Hans!
I'd been looking forward to it.
Thank you.
Best Regards,
Naina Redhu

Posted by: Naina Redhu | Aug 3, 2005 10:09:14 PM

I found this post and the accompanying link very illuminating and immediately applicable. I have in more recent times moved from the perspective of "out of the box" thinking to what i'd describe as "burn the box" thinking. Often this apparent ly radical approach may lead to the sense that one is speaking a different language to others and this can become problematic and perceived as lacking credibility.

There are consequences to departures from the norms within organisations in the name of innovation and creativity.

The "bigger box" methodology might be viewed as an acceptable balance. Especially so within more consevative business cultures.

Posted by: Ian McArthur | Aug 4, 2005 1:58:32 PM

Hi! Thanks for your comment on my in-the-box paper (http://ideaflow.corante.com/archives/2006/01/25/part_1_looking_for_ideas_in_all_the_wrong_places.php#comments). Your post is great -- more box metaphors, all of them useful! I've begun to think there's no more damaging metaphor than "outside the box," if only because when you first hear it, it makes perfect sense. Only on reflection (a stage most people never get to) do the pitfalls become clear. :) renee

Posted by: Renee Hopkins Callahan | Feb 9, 2006 2:58:24 PM

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CPH127 is a sense-making initiative. We aim to create a open dialogue around the profound understanding of the leadership, organization and strategy of creative business functions with the aim to create new value (for customers, employers and stakeholders.

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