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Creative Career Path

Thinking Inside the Box2009.07.22

    Thinking Inside the Box

    Creativity is often considered to be in a realm removed from the demands of daily life. A special activity for artists and those who play on the right side of the brain. When businesses talk about creativity, it is usually within the context of new ideas rather than incremental improvement. Whether in art of business, the concept of creativity is usually presented as thinking out of the box. 

    One example of this is the technique of brainstorming, made popular in the 1950s by Alex Osborn in his book Applied Imagination, in which a group is encouraged to generate a large number of ideas to solve a problem. The approach is to reserve judgment on the practicality of an idea until a large number of ideas are on the table. Despite its popularity, Psychologists and other researchers have consistently concluded that brainstorming is ineffective at producing quality ideas, and that thinking in groups is less productive than thinking independently as individuals. 


    Thinking out of the box is simply too easy. The presence of rules and limits is a prerequisite for progress in nearly all sports and performing arts. It would certainly be easier at first to play tennis by taking down the net and ignoring the lines on the court, but players would not progress and audiences would find nothing worth watching. What kind of theater would there be if actors all carried their scripts onto the stage rather than internalizing their roles and lines? Ideas and approaches that appear to come from outside of the box, are more often the product of rigorous discipline working within a set of limitations. The most exciting and productive creative work is most often produced and performed inside the box. 


    Think of the container ship, a simple idea to store and stack all items for shipping into boxes for easy loading and unloading. According to Peter Drucker in his book on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, thanks to the innovation of the container ship, innovating inside the box, the resulting reduction in time spent in the docks led to a quadrupling of world trade. 


    The Chinese character 創 means to create, make, or improvise. The character is made of two radicals, 倉 meaning warehouse (a box), and 刂meaning sword. An instrument of severity and decision inside a box. Not a definition for creativity that you are likely to encounter among contemporary creativity advocates. Yet one which is actually much closer to the real experience of creative and productive thought and action. 


    It is much easier to talk enthusiastically about creativity than it is to think and act creatively. John Andrew Holmes said that, "Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both." In a world where everybody has an opinion, few have the energy needed to do something about it. 


    Creativity enthusiasts have confused the issue by promoting enthusiasm instead of creativity. Perhaps we need a new word for it, such as improvisational intelligence, the ability to find your way out of trouble and into opportunity. In Japanese, the word for 
    cause and effect (因果 inga), could also be translated as trouble and result. This is very interesting, because it suggests again the intimate relation between the problem and the solution. 


    In improvisational intelligence, it is not what you know or what you have done before, but rather how you think and act when you are under pressure, and there is no obvious solution. Have you ever been in such a situation? Chances are, quite often! Maybe it's time to start thinking inside the box, with less chatter and more quality thought and action. 

    William Reed

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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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