Creativity, Thinking, and the Box

by Andy Wood on March 13, 2010

in Exploring the Possibilities, Insight, Life Currency, LV Cycle

Okay this post is interactive, so get a pen and something other than your outgoing mail to write on.  Or do what I did and pop up your word processor.

Here’s the challenge:  Watch the 46-second video below and see if, based on that, you can think of at least one adjective that begins with each letter of the alphabet.  (Confession:  I had to watch about five times, but I got it.)

Why this video?  Only because I saw it the other day and thought it was way-cool.  Here’s the back story:  A missionary had distributed Gideon Bibles to a village in Malawi, Africa.  These people were so happy to get their hands on their own Bibles, they spontaneously broke out into song and dancing, worshipping God in gratitude.  (When was the last time you did that when you got a new Bible?)

So click on the “play” button and start listing adjectives.  See how many plays it takes for you to get a full list.  I’ll show you my list after it’s over and you have yours.

Okay, here’s my list:

Avid, Biblical, Colorful, Devoted, Exuberant, Faithful, Generous, Harmonious, Inspired, Joyful, Kind, Lifegiving, Musical, Nurturing, Open, Printed, Quick, Responsive, Singing, Thankful, Uninhibited, Victorious, Watching, Xenophilic, Yellow, and Zealous.

Now set that aside, and I’ll come back to it in a minute.

You’re Now Entering the Cliché Zone

It all started with the Nine-Dots Puzzle.  The instructions:  Link all the dots together with four lines without lifting the pen.  There are many solutions to the problem, but all have one thing in common:  to succeed, you must take your pen outside the boundaries of the dots.  About 40 years ago, somebody started using this puzzle to teach people in business, leadership, and ultimately in culture that in order to succeed you have to…


Think outside the box!


For the first 30 years or so, the phrase was clever enough.  Now it’s cliché.

So how about some different thinking about the box?  When it comes to solving problems, creating new ideas, starting business or organizations, communicating a message, what can we do with our thinking, our box, our location, or our boundaries?

Change the Action

What would happen if you danced outside the box?  Sang outside the box?  Fingerpainted or base jumped or crocheted outside the box?  You may want to be careful about accounting outside the box; that got some people in trouble.  But you can laugh, love, or lead outside the box.  You can twist, shout or hokie-pokie outside the box.  People have been trying to educate outside the box for years.  (Hmmm… moving on…)

Is it possible to preach, worship, meet, draw, or box the outside write?  Uh huh.

The problem with thinking outside the box is that for many people, that’s as far as it goes.  It’s the doing outside the box that creates change and the 99 different bad ideas it takes before you arrive at the good one (or the 999 bad ideas it takes to find the great one).

Change the Object

Taco Bell has already beat us to this one by encouraging you to “think outside the bun.”  But there is plenty more room to improvise.  What about thinking outside the socks, the clocks, or the docks?  Should a shoe company or wearer think outside the Crocs?  Or patients and caregivers think outside the (this is getting lame) docs?

You get the idea.  Why not think outside the bus, the car, or the motorcycle?  Why not think outside the box-shaped store, or the mouse-shaped vacation, or the (gasp!) green-shaped business model (that’s a cliché for another day)?

Change the Relationship

Maybe “outside” the box is too general, or impossible because outside the box is, well, outside the organization or the planet or the span of your life or whatever.  How about a different relationship?

Think above the box.  Below the box. Toward the box.  Away from the box.  Beside, behind, around or into the box.  How about before, after, because of or against the box?  Box haters unite!

Keep the Box, but Change the Inside

This is my favorite of all.  I propose that if you really want to be creative, do what millions of people have discovered:

You don’t have to go outside the box to be creative.

You can think inside a bigger box, a stronger box, a frightening box, or a fighting box.

Now it’s time to fill in the blanks with your answers.  Imagine yourself facing – alone or with a group – your most compelling question or challenge.  One that requires a new level of thinking or creativity.  Imagine you leaning forward, stars in your eyes, and saying, “We’ve got to think inside the box!”

Imagine your team members looking at you as if you’re crazy.

“No,” you say.  “I mean, we need to think inside a(n) __________ box!”

Now fill in your blanks.  An avid box.  Biblical box.  Colorful box.  Devoted box.  Exuberant box.

You get the idea.

Now get in the box (or the clocks or the socks) and let the world know there are millions of solutions out there (or in here), just waiting for the problem to show up.

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