Here’s a trivial example to show you the difference between thinking inside the box versus thinking outside the box. Take this prompt: Write an essay. What? Just write an essay? Essay about what? Exactly, now, write an essay on the importance of school clubs. An incredibly simple example already shows the power of thinking inside the box. In fact, if you’ve written school essays, chances are you already utilized some inside the box thinking. Why? Because when I gave you the original prompt to simple “write an essay,” you had no boundaries or rules. You could write about practically anything. However, with the added constraint of writing about the importance of school clubs, chances are it is easier to start writing that essay. And not only easier to write, but the final essay will most likely be of better quality. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of why thinking inside the box is truly better than outside the box thinking.
Why is thinking outside the box a bad strategy?
Thinking outside the box has been seen as something that “successful” people do to solve problems. Thinking outside the box has been believed to create and deliver creative solutions. Brainstorming is almost like a branch of thinking outside the box, and to be quite honest, it is a waste of time. Brainstorming is like looking for a missing item when you never had that item to begin with. By thinking outside the box and brainstorming, you look for far-fetched, unrealistic ideas that follow no creative or innovative pattern. This strategy is incredibly ineffective and outdated. Without any constraints, it is not only hard to innovate and be truly creative, but also rather difficult to even find a simple solution without wasting hours “brainstorming.” Of course, there will be a few instances where brainstorming was relatively effective, but once again, they are merely instances. To drive proven results, rather than hope for a miracle, professionals and students need a different approach to problem solving and ideation. That is why, as a student, it’s important to grasp the idea of thinking inside the box.
Why is inside the box thinking so effective?
“Creativity comes from constraints.”
The bottom line is that thinking inside the box is the most effective strategy and method to drive real, creative, and innovative solutions to your problems. Why so? It all lies within the power of constraints. Constraints are truly something else. People tend to fear being constrained whether that be too busy to finish their calculus homework, not enough money to buy lunch, the list goes on and on. But in fact, constraints are the underlying factor regarding thinking inside the box. Without constraints, there would be no “box.” Without constraints, you would have no starting point for anything. Take the trivial example I gave in the beginning of this article. You not only found it easier to think of a practical solution, but your solution when given a constraint turned out to be more innovative, than if you even were able to come up with a solution without the constraint.
This may seem slightly counter-intuitive to most people. It makes sense to want to avoid constraints. It is natural to not want to feel constrained or limited, thus why it has been believed for so long that thinking outside the box is effective. That by removing constraints we can actually be creative. Nothing has been farther from the truth. Rather, embrace constraints, and see them as an opportunity to discover the innovative and creative solutions. Let’s get into more detail with why constraints actually lead to innovation.
The Power of Constraints
Why are constraints so powerful regarding inside the box thinking? I’m going to quote this directly from a research article which I’ll link at the end of this article: ” Teams experiencing the right kinds of constraints in the right environments, and which saw opportunity in constraints, benefited creatively from them. The results of this research challenge the assumption that constraints kill creativity, demonstrating instead that for teams able to accept and embrace them, there is freedom in constraint.” The best way to experience the power of constraints start being aware of them around you. We tend to indirectly or subconsciously shy away from constraints in our lives, but the next time, be sure to pay attention. Sometimes the most innovative and helpful solutions the world has ever seen have been solved within constraints.
Though some “constraints” may be too serious to handle in a creative fashion, but the majority of low-scale problems in our lives can actually be solved by embracing these very constraints. The notion that creativity can actually be a systematic process might jump out to people. But innovation is, in fact, a systematic process. If you would like to learn all about constraints and how it is the catalysts for innovative ideas, be sure to enroll in my Innovation for Students course which details all about constraints and how you can utilize inside the box thinking to drive innovation in your life.