But these expressions can have a problematic effect because almost imperceptibly they drive ones thinking toward certain patterns and conclusions that are not necessarily helpful. This can be a more tangible and difficult problem when doing innovation than merely using tedious cliches!
Innovation works best when we utilise an exceptional and uncommon way of thinking, when we challenge the norm and develop new approaches, when we think “differently”. Innovation is a thinking activity after all, especially in the early stages and focussing is vital. The question is, however, how should we manage our thinking so it is understandable, reliable and repeatable.
Thinking is also often fenced-in by hidden assumptions, attitudes, biases and a variety of other factors. In fact, thinking can even be tightly tied to the location where the thinking is done, and seemingly totally unrelated things can effect it dramatically. For example, grasping a warm drink during an interview with a potential employee increases the likelihood of trusting that person and offering them the job!
So, framing a successful thinking process as “out of the box” means that you begin to think about your thinking in a way that will address some problems but not others. For example, you’ll begin to think that you need to primarily consider resources that you don’t already have to help create the solutions you want. To really innovate you need to address all possibilities to maximise potential outcomes, especially the possibilities that you already control.
The hidden assumptions behind “thinking outside the box” are about creativity. One assumption is that creativity is best produced by doing unusual out of the ordinary things that release the so-called creative juices. The other assumption is that some people are much more creative than others and that the “special ones” are more capable of somehow hitting upon ideas than others.
The common misconception about creativity is that it often occurs as a sort of lightning strike of inspiration, a eureka moment that is magically generated in the minds of entrepreneurs and geniuses. But in fact creativity is like most other things, the more creative you want to be, the more hard work you need to put in, or as Winston Churchill once drily quipped “It takes an age to prepare my impromptu remarks”.
It is interesting that we persevere with this idea about creativity, because as centuries of highly creative scientific methodology has shown us, the technique of systematic observation, measurement, experiment, and then the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses, produces far more robust results than taking trips to the local baths in the hope you’ll eventually run home naked crying out “Eureka Eureka!”
In other words focusing in on a problem and working through it methodologically, being iterative and carefully turning every stone is a far more effective way of allowing “eureka moments” a space to develop and consequently generate your desired results. This careful method may seem counter-intuitive because, as mentioned, we have a peculiar idea of creativity, but it undoubtedly works. Especially when we are dealing with complex projects involving numerous individuals all with their own ideas in the first place.
It also has the benefit of encouraging you to utilise the resources you already have, because first thinking “inside the box” means you focus on your available resources when addressing an opportunity or a challenge. And by doing that you not only maximise your current potential, but you also systemise your ideation process so that it’s more robust as well as measurable and repeatable. Besides, it’s not unusual to find you already have the innovative solution , you just didn’t look for it properly.
So next time someone says “think outside the box”, think again. It could be far more productive in complex innovation projects to make sure you do your thinking inside the box.
To gain further insights into how to build and strengthen your innovation process, get in touch to see how we can help you. We’ve been pioneering the professionalisation of innovation since 2000 to become one of the worlds leading innovation consultancies. Amplify has developed and implemented unique innovation services that deliver immediate and long-term sustainable value, together with clients such as BMW, Siemens, Ericsson and AstraZeneca. Amplify also trains hundreds of new innovation managers on an annual basis, through their own programs and together with major international executive schools.
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