Get Your Thinking Out Of The Box

What is thinking out of the box? It is getting outside the usual ways of looking at things (that's the box) to arrive at new and useful ideas. How do you do it? Here is one of the many ways.

How To Get Your Thinking Out Of The Box

One of the simplest techniques for "out of the box" thinking is to identify each of the elements of the "box" and consider any alternatives that come to mind, even crazy ones. Most of these will not be useful, but work with them and some may be made into ideas that aren't so crazy after all. Once in a while they may even lead to great innovations. Let's look at a specific example to see how this works.

Suppose you want to stop smoking, and you are looking for a creative new way to do this? First, you need to identify the ideas, assumptions and solutions that are common. These are the basis of the "box." They could include:

- It is a matter of willpower.

- This is a personal goal.

- You'll pay for some program to help you quit.

- You have to stop smoking.

- It is difficult to quit.

There are certainly other common ideas and solutions, but these are enough to show how the process works. Starting with the willpower issue, you might ask, "Why does it have to be a test of willpower?" This leads you to consider the easiest ways to quit. Perhaps hypnotism could help. It also suggests not being around others who smoke for a while, so there is no temptation. There is nothing too creative here, so you move on to the next item.

It is natural to assume that this is a personal goal, but not necessary to keep that perspective. Many people want to quit, perhaps even a few of your friends. Is there some way to make this a group goal? While that thought is in your mind, you challenge the next item with the idea; "What if a program paid me to quit?" That leads to an out-of-the-box solution: A group challenge and bet.

You arrange with three friends who want to quit to each put a thousand dollars in a pot. After one year, those have not smoked a cigarette get to split the pot. If two of you succeed, you'll each be a thousand ahead. If only one succeeds, he or she will make three thousand dollars. There's some real motivation, and the competitive nature of the challenge may help as well.

What about the assumption that you have to quit smoking? Is there a way to continue smoking without the health problems? You might switch slowly to cigarettes with less nicotine. You might find that the sensation of the cigarette in your mouth is as important as the nicotine, and you can eventually just "smoke" them without lighting them. These ideas may work, but are not too new, so you move on.

What about the idea that it is difficult to quit? You ask yourself, what if it was easy to quit? That gives you nothing, so you play with the idea and ask, "What if it was difficult to smoke?" Now that is an out of the box question, and it immediately suggests some ideas. How do you make it difficult? Perhaps you and your spouse could pay five dollars per cigarette into a special account to be split at the end of a year. Whoever smokes less will gain the most, and the pain of the high cost will make it tough to smoke much.

The most potentially profitable idea, though, may be that of having a drug that causes you to get immediately nauseous when you smoke. That makes it difficult to continue. It would be something like the drug "anabuse" which makes alcoholics vomit if they drink. It would be even better if it was in the form of an injection that lasts for a month, so you can't "forget" your pill.

You can see the basic process here. First define the "box," by listing all the usual ideas and solutions. Then consider these one-by-one. Attack them, alter them, look for opposites, and do anything else to find a new perspective. There are many ways to have more creative ideas, but this is one of the simplest and most systematic techniques for getting your thinking out of the box.

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