Think Creatively, Unimpeded By Orthodox or Conventional Constraints

May 11, 2018

Think Creatively, Unimpeded By Orthodox or Conventional Constraints

Thinking Outside of the box! Meaning: Think creatively, unimpeded by orthodox or conventional constraints

out of the box

How many management or leadership courses have you been on where you have seen this diagram?

How many times have you been asked by a boss “just think outside of the box”!

As a deliverer of many training courses, I first came across this diagram in 1994 and I have probably used it in many courses over 10 years to describe and encourage people to think out of the limits of their own “maps of the world”; to look at a problem or challenge, with the aim to change the paradigms of the current norms.  If you have tried solving this diagram, you will probably remember your first attempts usually involved trying to connect the 9 dots having the 4 lines inside the “Box” (imaginary lines).The correct solution, however, requires you to draw lines that extend beyond the area defined by the dots.

When I researched this, I found that this principle originated in the USA in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It has become something of a cliché, especially in the business world today, where 'thinking outside the box' has become so overused as to be rather meaningless.

BUT! It is not meaningless, it just has a seeming non-sequitur when it is used on yet another training course, or a sales pitch to get you to think differently. There are so many new ways of explaining how to think outside the realms of normality and expand the thinking to see new potentials and change paradigms, if only the thoughts can turn into actions.

Edward De Bono introduced the concept of lateral thinking and defines it as: ‘methods of thinking concerned with changing concepts and perception’.

Lateral thinking is concerned with the "movement value" of statements and ideas. A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.

Edward de Bono defines four types of thinking tools:

  1. Idea-generating tools intended to break current thinking patterns—routine patterns, the status quo
  2. Focus tools intended to broaden where to search for new ideas
  3. Harvest tools intended to ensure more value is received from idea generating output
  4. Treatment tools that promote consideration of real-world constraints, resources, and support

Example tools:


1. Random Entry Idea Generating Tool

The thinker chooses an object at random, or a noun from a dictionary, and associates it with the area they are thinking about. De Bono gives the example the randomly-chosen word "nose" being applied to an office photocopier, leading to the idea that the copier could produce a lavender smell when it was low on paper, to alert staff.

2. Provocation Idea Generating Tool

A provocation is a statement that we know is wrong or impossible but is used to create new ideas. De Bono gives an example of considering river pollution and setting up the provocation "the factory is downstream of itself"; this leads to the idea of forcing a factory to take its water input from a point downstream of its output, an idea which later became law in some countries. Provocations can be set up by the use of any of the provocation techniques—wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, distortion, or arising. The thinker creates a list of provocations and then uses the most outlandish ones to move their thinking forward to new ideas.

3. Challenge Idea Generating Tool

A tool which is designed to ask the question "Why?" in a non-threatening way: why something exists, why it is done the way it is. The result is a very clear understanding of "Why?" which naturally leads to fresh new ideas. The goal is to be able to challenge anything at all, not just items which are problems. For example, one could challenge the handles on coffee cups: The reason for the handle seems to be that the cup is often too hot to hold directly; perhaps coffee cups could be made with insulated finger grips, or there could be separate coffee-cup holders or coffee shouldn't be so hot in the first place.

4. Concept Fan Idea Generating Tool

Ideas carry out concepts. This tool systematically expands the range and number of concepts in order to end up with a very broad range of ideas to consider. In essence, all of the above are extensions of the (9 Dots puzzle) but are more practical and definitely implementable in any organisation, business or country.

If you want an answer to the 9 dots, click here



Edward De Bono  - Lateral thinking

Presented: Kyle Jaggers, Senior International Trainer at LMC

To find out more about LMC, download our Corporate Brochure or contact one of our advisors: +44 (0) 207 724 6007 /


Subscribe to our Newsletter