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glenjamin's avatar

How do you think outside the box? Can it even be learned/practiced?

Asked by glenjamin (2505points) October 19th, 2011

So I don’t consider myself an “outside of the box” thinker, at least when it comes to most things. This is evident in my studies, I am going for an mba and it seems this type of thinking is often called for in the program. Problem is, I’m always short for ideas and am starting to think I’m just not cut out for business/marketing. So is this a skill that can be learned and if so how? Any pointers? Are you just born with it? I can think outside of the box for certain things, like anything having to do with general computing.

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19 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

First of all, you need to understand that this is the stupidest cliche known to man. Everyone who ever says these words should, in my opinion, be put up on a stake!

Why is it stupid?







The box does not exist. Unfortunately, it’s like the emperor’s clothes. Everyone believes it’s there because everyone talks about it, and they’ve been talking about it since you’ve been 1 year old. No, don’t put that in your mouth. No, people don’t eat grass. No, you can’t run over there. No, the doggy is not your friend. No, you can not play with the knife.

No. No. No. All your life you are made to follow rules that you don’t even know exist. So by now, you are absolutely convinced there is a box that doesn’t exist. You know it’s boundaries by heart. You know exactly what you can do and what you can’t and you have imprisoned yourself, apparently voluntarily within the bounds of this imaginary box that doesn’t exist.

You know how I can tell you are imprisoned in some box of your own devisement? You claim that you are always short of ideas. This is BULLSHIT!!! You have plenty of ideas. But what you also have is a big “No Momma” sitting inside your head telling you no to an idea before it even begins to be birthed.

You have to kill the no-Momma. Or maybe not kill her, but lock her up in a little corner so that you ideas can be born and you can see what they become. See, she’s afraid they won’t become much of anything, and she doesn’t believe you should have an idea unless it turns into something successful, and she says that this idea is stupid and that one won’t work and that you will look a fool if you say this and on and on. She needs a muzzle.

Brainstorming means throwing out every idea you have and not caring if they are good or bad. Sometimes—often the best ideas seem pretty stupid on the surface. You don’t have to be attached to your ideas. You don’t have to own them. You can just throw them out and see which ones survive. The ones that survive will surprise you.

So shut up the no-Momma. Then start throwing out ideas one after the other as fast as you can so your no-Momma can’t get a word in edgewise (because she is telepathic and it doesn’t matter that she is bound and gagged).

You worry about judging the ideas later. But the whole point is that you can’t think inside the box if there is no box, and there really is no box, once you get the No-Momma bound and gagged and you put a tinfoil hat on her so she can’t mess with your brainwaves.

There you go.
It’s so easy you’ll be amazed once you realize you’re the only one stopping yourself.

mrrich724's avatar

Challenge yourself NOT TO SETTLE for a typical solution. When you come up with a solution to a problem, ask yourself if most other people would arrive at that same conclusion, if the answer is ‘yes’ don’t use it. This will force you to ‘get creative.’

I think people are raised to settle for what’s easy, and what’s easy isn’t considered ‘out of the box.’

Remain open minded. Steve Jobs credits his success (partially) to a spiritual journey he took which included tripping on LSD. I don’t think the LSD necessarily had a direct effect on his thought process, but it shows that while most would frown upon something, he had an attitude that was willing to embrace and not judge “the different.”

Think, and be willing to do extra, and that will help!

marinelife's avatar

Here is a book on creative thinking.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Yes I think thinking outside the box can be learned. I think though I always had that ability, I was able to hone it over the years by taking a variety of educational opportunities.

mrrich724's avatar

@ucme that was an incredible reply! LOL


wundayatta's avatar

Go ahead.

Show me the box.

Make my day!

Pandora's avatar

I don’t know? But sometimes I think its not really an ability to think creatively. What I mean is that some people, like mozart are born with a rare ability.
Where the rest of us don’t really create things out of thin air. Its more an ability to take what we already know and come to several conclusions and experiment with some others.
Some people can create something new because we may have some brain abnormality that enables them to make sense out of chaos. Like dyslexics. Many have been know to be creative.
But many people go through life just wanting to absorb information but not really think about what they are learning and how it can be applied to different things in their lives.
@ucme LOL, I can see where that may encourage someone to always try and stay thinking out of the box.

smilingheart1's avatar

@glenjamin, everyone has borders we impose or allow to be imposed on us but we can all get more space going. The gurus would say “the only limit is the size of your expectation” etc but in the end does it not come down to what do we really want and what are we willing to sacrifice to get it?

Ernie Zelinski (link below) became unemployed many moons ago and has never looked back. He is a very interesting, readable guy and you won’t go unrewarded from the kinds of things he stimulates you to think about.

In the end for each of us, being able to ask our own “right questions” is paramount. Seems to me you’re asking a good one….bon voyage!

gr8teful's avatar

I try to “think outside the box”, but it seems my attempt at thinking outside the box and trying to find a resolution to a difficult problem is viewed as insanity by some people, even though in theory it would be absolutely Legal in certain Countries, so I guess thinking outside the box also raises people’s feelings.

Hibernate's avatar

Having an open mind .. ideas you don’t like at least you listen and maybe in time you at least try them .. some should not be tried here .. no heroin injections and similar.

Pandora's avatar

You can also try being lazy. I find most of my bright ideas come from a need to get the same results or better by cutting out the unnecessary stuff.
That is where the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” came from.
Practice by trying to find a faster way of doing stuff.
I just recently had some towels that I was trying to figure out, what was the best way to remove the fuzz balls. Then I saw a green scratch pad and remembered it kind of sticks to fabrics easily enough and wondered if I ran it over my towel, if it will pick the lint balls off. It certainly did. It was faster than using a razor blade or a fuzz ball remover or even a lint brush or some comb. It was perfect. I was able to use it roughly over the towels and remove the balls without causing any damage to the fibers of the towels.

saint's avatar

The way I figure, the phrase “thinking outside the box” is just a euphemism for “be creative”.Nothing wrong with that.
I am no expert at sociology or creativity, but I think it is also a sort of New Age way of saying “Suspend Aristotelean logic and see what happens”- and truth is at that point nothing too good is going to happen. But, I read a book by Tom Wolfe, and he chronicles, among other things, events in the 60s including the author Ken Kesey and the his buddies the Merry Pranksters. They had this bus they drove around while they were fucked up on LSD. They had a meaningless phrase “You are either on the bus, or you are off the bus”. Total Zen bullshit. But they thought it meant something. “Think outside the box” is the current version of that weirdness.

Mantralantis's avatar

Very simply, when I come across a situation or thing that needs to be either fully changed or modified to become better, when the usual conventional thinking doesn’t work, I automaticly start to think about what’s fallible or what’s wrong with that same situation or thing and find ways solve it. Not that it always works for me, mind you, but sometimes it can. So if you start thinking about what’s wrong with something, it’s an instinctive place to start ‘thinking outside the box’ and go with your own intuitive thinking.

Brian1946's avatar


“You can also try being lazy.”

Good idea. That’s usually my approach. ;-)

It’s really helped with my lawn maintenance. I never bothered to remove any “weeds”, plant any seeds, or fertilize, and yet my lawn looks so green and healthy.

filmfann's avatar

Do Cryptic Crosswords. You cannot solve them easily using logic.
The clue tells you a definition of the word, and another way to find the word. It also lists the number of letters in the answer.

Ms. Derek returned to 5 and dime United States Patent. (7)

The answer is found this way:
Ms Derek is Bo. Returned, it is Ob.
5 is the roman numeral V
dime is 10
United States is US.

The word is ObV10US, or Obvious, defined by the word Patent.


Joker starts confusing you with bare, famous Jelly. (6)

Joker starts with J.
Confusing means mixing up letters.
You with Bare, or UBARE is mixed up, and could be ERUBA.
The answer is Jeruba, who is a famous jelly.

You can usually find two complete puzzles in Games magazine, and they require sideways thinking.

philosopher's avatar

Most Scientist who make incredible discoveries think outside the box.
In other words they comprehend what is know and accepted by most Scientist but they come up with new Hypnotizes.
Thinking outside, the well know or Traditional does not mean you disregard accepted knowledge or facts. It means you ask but what if?
Einstein and many other Scientist have made new discoveries this way and so have inventors.
People have made the impossible possible by this type of thinking.
Dr. Ira Lovas invented Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA is a Scientifically documented technique to teach autistic people. Main Stream Psychologist are slowly
beginning to accept ABA because it works well. Despite that they are threatened by it.
I do not limit myself and I question almost everything.
I find away to do things when most give up or walk away.
My husband was a Business Major and I have proven his cynicism wrong often. I trust No one but I ask everyone if they are knowledgeable.

HungryGuy's avatar

Get a job with a shipping company. Then, instead of thinking outside the box, you’ll be thinking about the box :-p

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