4 Ways to Think Outside the Box

Last modified 06 March 2024
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
4 Ways to Think Outside the Box

In the 1970s, a psychologist named J.P Guildford came up with a simple, but bafflingly tricky puzzle. He gave subjects a piece of paper on which were marked nine dots, and asked them to join all nine without lifting their pencil from the paper. 80% of his subjects couldn’t do it. The 20% who could, did so by drawing lines that extended out from the nine-dot ‘box’ and into the white space beyond. The solution, and the creative thinking it displayed, became known as ‘thinking outside the box’.

When you step into a managerial position, you’ll be called upon to make decisions, solve problems and develop strategies to make sure your company achieves its objectives. That’s a role which requires more than standard thinking. But can you teach yourself and your staff to think outside the box? Here are some ways to develop an innovative approach to problem solving.

1. Define the box

In other words, make sure that you understand what the problem is and what a solution would achieve before starting to map the route to that solution. That means being specific and focused on what you’re looking at before thinking as expansively as possible about how to get there.

2. Set boundaries on your thinking

This sounds anti-intuitive: how can boundaries help you think outside the box? But in fact, some parameters to your approach will ‘anchor’ your thinking, giving you a starting place to focus your creativity.

3. Take the pressure off

Free-associative thinking can be a great way to generate new ideas or build connections between concepts, but for that to work effectively, you need to take the emphasis off quality and onto quantity. Encourage your team to think fast and furious, without worrying if their ideas are defensible under scrutiny; you’re far more likely to find an out-of-left-field approach that hits that home run.

4. Involve front line staff

Whether your company is retail or business-to-business, the staff who deal with your clients every day are the ones who understand them best. Get their input on what makes your clients happy and what problems they encounter; this is information that often doesn’t make it to a formal complaints process, but adds insight that will help you approach a problem in a different way.

What do you think?

Does your company encourage out-of-the-box thinking? What’s strategies and processes have worked well for you?

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Inc., Entrepreneur, Psychology Today, Ashton Media.


*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.

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