Thinking Outside The Box (2015)
Chapter 5: Activities that force you to think outside the box
These chapters have covered everything to get you started in kicking your creative thinking into high gear. At this moment you’re leaps and bounds beyond what most people know about thinking outside of the box and probably light years ahead of most people about implementing that type of thinking into your daily life.
What? You don’t feel as if you’re ready yet to use this type of thinking efficiently and successful. That’s perfectly understandable. Remember that the more you use anything -- from the muscles of your body to knowledge -- the better you’ll get at implementing it in your life.
Thinking outside the box is no different. But beyond that, there are tips, tricks and techniques you can use to jumpstart your ability to thinks outside of the box. That’s what this chapter is all about. It’s written expressly to show you what you can do to boost this method of thought process.
Some of these ideas are easy to institute, others may require a bit more effort and may even involve some resources you might not have available to you at the moment. Then again, once you start thinking creatively you just might find yourself inventing a creative way to employ those that are “supposedly” beyond your reach.
How to Naturally Start to Think Outside The Box
The following list of activities are mere suggestions that have helped others view their circumstances differently in order to solve a problem or find a different, more efficient way to do an everyday action. Use those that are most valuable to you at the moment, but don’t summarily discard the others. You’ll never know when you’ll be able to use them.
Expand your horizons. Isn’t that what you were always told that travel would do for you? At the time you heard this, you may have wondered exactly what your “horizons” were, but you figured they probably did need expanded regardless.
It turns out, that the scientific study performed in this area, confirms this sentiment. Travelling -- especially abroad -- does indeed expand your horizons. And just for the record, improves your ability to think creatively. A recent study revealed that college students who traveled overseas scored higher on tests measuring creative thinking than those students who stayed on campus for the same time period.
Specifically this study assessed American college students who traveled to England for a summer-study program. What causes this burst of creative thinking in students who went abroad? The obvious reason is the exposure they received to a variety of cultural norms. Regardless of your age, travelers are exposed to a society which performs activities and views problems differently from what’s done in the states. That exposure alone sparks the idea that an act you may performed one way for so long could be done another way.
For some, the way one culture attacks its biggest problems of makes the most of the size of the space they have for certain events may trigger a creative chain reaction in your mind. The next thing you know, you’re transferring that approach to your specific situations.
While the study didn’t specifically state so, some experts in the field have extrapolated that the same conclusion probably holds true for traveling across the United States. With a country as large as this one, regional differences naturally exist. You may discover that something that you encounter in one city may help you with own personal problem-solving techniques.
So pack your bags and expand your horizons!
Talk to people you don’t know
No one is telling you to put your life in danger and befriend a serial killer or a mass murderer. Talking to individuals you may pass by in your neighborhood coffee shop or restaurant or even laundromat, can help boost your powers of creativity.
Again, just like above, you’ll be seeing the world from another perspective -- theirs. Meeting these individuals, as you may well guess, is only the first step, though. The second, and more critical step in this activity, is to listen when they talk. That’s the only way you’ll be able to drink in their unique perspective on the world.
Viewing even mundane matters as political points from someone who has had different life experiences from yourself may help you understand how someone could hold that position. And that in itself may be the catalyst that sparks you to think outside of the box.
Break away from your daily routine
What? You’ve probably spent much effort and time disciplining yourself to create a routine to help boost your productivity. Now, you’re being told to break from that routine that’s worked so well for you.
Well, yes. You may want to break from it, but don’t toss it out the window. If you’re not focused on performing everything you have always done, in the same manner you’ve always done it, then you may open yourself up to new options of doing things.
You may want to start with your morning commute. If you’re like most of us, you tend to rely on the same route with the same traffic lights, making the same turns. You may even be seeing the same commuters driving the same cars on their way to work. And dare we say experiencing the same traffic jams day after day.
Why not start out a few minutes earlier and take a scenic route to work? The different type of landscape and just the need to pay attention to your route may help kindle your imagination. It may occur while you’re driving. Suddenly you see something that can help solve a problem at work. Or you may have a spark of creativity later in the day because of this “creative detour.”
Of course, there are any number of ways to break from your routine either at work or at home. For women of an earlier generation, Monday was always “wash day,” the day they gathered all the dirty clothes in the house and washed them. Similarly, Saturdays for that same generation of women was cleaning day. Floors would get scrubbed, bedrooms cleaned out and sweepers run throughout the entire house.
If Monday night is taco night at your house, why not surprise the entire family with a different menu? And who said that Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day were all about turkey or ham? Why not call the best Chinese restaurant in town and eat Chinese on Christmas Eve? It’ll not only be a Christmas to remember, it may just help you think outside of the box.
Constrain your thinking
You’re presented with another suggestion that tends to be counter intuitive. Normally, the average person thinks “creativity” and immediately associates it with freedom. Instead, go back to the adage that “necessity is the mother of invention.”
What if you only had so many options? How could you piece them together in order to create something memorable, solve a problems at home, or help build your business or career? If that sounds impossible, then it sounds as if you need to at least give it a try.
Counterintuitively, it turns out that constraints can actually increase our creative output. This could be due to removing the overwhelming of having too many choices. If you’ve ever faced the hurdle of a blank page, you’ll know what I mean.
According to the writer and actor John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, creativity is as elusive at times as that butterfly passing by you by never landing. It’s always just out of your reach, lighting down all around you, but never gracing you with the pleasure of its company.
Surprisingly, research bears out Cleese’s observations. Many individuals prefer what scientists call, “the path of least mental resistance.” This refers to the act of building on ideas that have already been tried. Another route to this path of least mental resistance is using all the resources they have available, whether they’re relevant or not.
When that happens he suggests that you try “trapping creativity.” Specifically, he advises, “You have to create boundaries of space and then you have to create boundaries of time.” Does that sound like anyone you know? Some of the most creative people claim they work best under pressure.
Many individuals believe for example, that only novels of 100,000 words or more are creative. There’s a legend that Ernest Hemingway once bragged he could write a creative short story in a mere six words.
Intrigued, his friends took him up on the challenge. Sure enough, in six words he created one of the saddest tales you’ll ever read: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Dr. Seuss accepted a similar challenge in his writing, although he agreed to use a few more words. Using a mere 50 different predetermined words, Dr. Seuss wrote a children’s book. You’ve probably read it as a child, read it to your children or even bought it for your niece or nephew. It’s called Green Eggs and Ham.
While you’re probably not writing a short story, you can take a leaf from their book (or story) and think about how constraints on your situation can actually ignite your inner creativity.
How can living in a small apartment and the desire to grow a few vegetables stimulate your outside the box thinking, for example? How could you possibly store all of the kitchen pots and pans you’ve had when you had a big kitchen now that you’ve moved into a new apartment with a small galley kitchen? Physical constraints many times are blessings in disguise. If you view them that way from the beginning, perhaps your creativity will kick in even sooner than it normally does.
Remind yourself that there’s nothing new under the sun
What does that mean? It means that if you wait until an original, “never used before idea” sneaks up on you, you’ll be waiting forever. While certainly there may be a few genuine ideas out there, but they are few and far between.
That may sound depressing until you realize how that can affect you personally. This means that all you need to do is to view the same “dots” as it were and make different connections. That, in effect, brings us back to the origins of the “thinking outside the box” phrase. Remember those nine dots you were asked to connect. How you connected them reflected the state of your creativity at that specific moment in time. You weren’t performing any new or creative activity, you were merely trying to “connect the dots” as directed.
Even one of the most creative minds in the electronics age, Steve Jobs, realized that dependency on brand new ideas could spell disaster to your ultimate creative self. He sized up the idea of creative thinking in this way:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something."
The artist, Austin Kleon, said once he is always asked where his ideas from. His honest answer: “I steal them.” That’s closer to the truth than you may imagine. Ask Twyla Tharp, dancer and choreographer where she gets her ideas from. She’s constantly being inspired by a piece of music or something created from someone else, then she connects the dots, so to speak, in her own way. The result, surprisingly, is a new and sometimes revolutionary creation which becomes an icon in its own right.
Think of West Side Story. If you realize it’s “just” a re-working, revision and update of the Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet, does it diminish the magnificence of it at all?
The bottom line to this suggestion is to take ideas from others, pretend they’re Play Doh or pliable clay and rework them to suit your needs. The ideas for decor you find on Pinterest may not suit your home exactly, but with a tweak here and a tweak there, the basic idea may work in your home. And viola! By all accounts you’re thinking creatively.
Do something you’ve never done before
You can immediately see why this works to build your ability to think outside the box. If you’ve never performed a particular task before, you take a step or two back to figure out the best way for you to perform it. Sure, you’re going to watch videos, ask others for their advice, but the bottom line is that you’re going to work out a plan of attack -- a creative plan of attack -- that works for you. During all of this you’re thinking outside the box without realizing it.
Surround yourself with creative people
This may be a no-brainer, but it is, after all, one of the quickest ways to kick start your creative thinking. You’re around people who think outside of the box almost by second nature. If you not only surround yourself with individuals like this, but watch closely what they do, then emulate them, you’ll be thinking outside the box yourself, before you know it.
Remember that, as we noted earlier, that you’re the average of the five individuals you frequent the most. If that’s the case, then you can’t help but find yourself a more creative thinker when you keep company with those whose thought processes are already finely honed in this perspective.
Listen to music
Yes, sometimes it is that easy. Music of any kind actually stimulates the area of your brain that regulates the motor actions, emotions, and -- viola! -- Creativity. According to some studies, the best type of music to have in the background is classical. But, many individuals say that as long as it’s the kind of music you love, then it should stimulate your creative stream of thinking.
If you do choose classical music, some researchers suggest listening to anything composed by Mozart. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to researchers, listening to Mozart’s compositions can help boost not only your ability to think outside the box, but also strengthen your concentration as well as a few other cognitive functions
This simple, unobtrusive, method may be just what you need to add to your tricks to help think out of the box. Give it a try. What do you have to lose?
The activities listed above should work well for you in getting you accustomed to thinking outside the box and applying a creative vision to your daily life. You may want to implement these one at a time, then sit back and see how they can aid you in your thought processes.
It’s possible that some may not work for you. Undoubtedly, though, you’ll discover at least one, if not more to boost your thinking.
The methods your mind uses to create your world -- from enhancing your career to chopping onions more efficiently -- is the result of several layers of thought. Many times you employ these layers without being fully consciously aware of them.
While lateral or creative thinking can be the spark that ignites your imagination and sets your passions on fire, you’ll still need to implement the other thought processes along your creative journey to piece it all together.
After Einstein used out of the box thinking to visualize himself riding on that beam of light, then he dug in and employed his lateral and critical thinking to ensure his laws of relativity would withstand the critical thinking of his peers.
Without employing critical or lateral thinking, the creativity of Thomas Edison may have been just “wasted” day dreaming.
Even when you go to employ your creativity to problems or changes in your home, you need to layer the types of thoughts you use. All of these different forms of thought processes are needed in order to implement your daily “life hacks” as they’re called these days. Sure, that ladder bookshelf sounds like a great idea, but you still need to install it. That’s where the other types of thinking are indispensable.
At times, that out of the box thought is essential at the end of a project or a situation. If you read mystery novels or watch crime dramas on television, you will know exactly how this works. The detectives have performed all the critical and lateral thinking needed. They’ve traced the evidence as far as they could. They’ve employed logic and then carefully created new ideas and thoughts as they branch off the original evidence.
Yet, they still have hit a dead end. At that point, they take their jigsaw puzzle of clues which is missing one final piece and do something unexpected. They turn the entire puzzle ninety degrees. The result? An entirely different picture appears, usually yielding the big picture allowing the placement of that final missing piece of the puzzle. Now, they clearly see the shape of the puzzle and place it snugly and securely in the hole.
As you become more comfortable with thinking outside the box, you’ll become at recognizing when it’s needed. In turn, the easier it’ll be to call it up when needed.
Thank you for reading this short guide. Now is the time to start thinking outside the box. Try and do your daily tasks differently. Ask completely different questions. Be Creative! Our Imaginations are limitless.