Thinking in New Boxes

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things”. – Steve Jobs

Lessons learnt: To be creative, change your perspective. Diverge, converge and reevaluate – again, and again.

Think outside the box is a common saying, it’s also wrong. Thinking outside the box leads us to scout the horizon of what we are currently doing. It allows for discovery of related concepts, but won’t protect you from new innovations. Thinking in New Boxes, on the other hand, is focussed on changing your mind and sparking the next big idea. Join me in an analysis of this great book by Luc de Brandere and Alan Iny.

We people make sense of the world by using mental models. We fit things into categories (e.g. mammals, cars, friends and foes). And we tend to think in these mental models, or boxes. We use them to make the world manageable, it’s something we can’t do without. It reduces uncertainty, and people love that.

Thinking in boxes doesn’t sound like a recipe for creativity, and it isn’t. Thinking outside the box is a good first step, it asks a person to challenge the current but it lacks guidance on how to proceed. Thinking in new boxes does provide this guidance. It changes your thinking from deductive to inductive.

The framework (a box in itself) explains thinking in new boxes in 5 steps: (this may already challenge your thinking about creativity as a non-rigid exercise)

  1. Doubt Everything – All your ideas are hypotheses – they are not set in stone
  2. Probe the Possible – Ask questions to define the issues you want to address and objectives you want to accomplish
  3. Diverge – Brainstorm on how to tackle the challenges
  4. Converge – Test your ideas
  5. Reevaluate Relentlessly –  Go back to step 1

Some 300 pages later you will know all there is to know about thinking in new boxes. The authors take their time to explain how each (relatively easy) phase works and use real-life examples and a fictional case to bring their point across. The last few chapters consider how to apply the framework (again, box) to creative problems and business strategy.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”. –  George Bernard Shaw

Thinking in New Boxes is a must read whether you are innovating, strategizing or leading change of any sort. It will let you doubt everything you do – in a good way.