Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Is Creativity about Thinking Out of Box or in the New Box?

Thinking creatively  = creating a new box that could be used for thinking inside the new box, but out of the old box.

Creativity has often been analogized as “thinking outside the box.” Fundamentally, the "box" is the set of "rules" you are abiding by at any moment in time, by a breakdown of old rules, your mind sets free to create the new ideas, usually comes from identifying and challenging assumptions and then generating more possibilities. However, without box (rules), can you generate more useful and achievable ideas? Thinking out of the box is necessary for boosting creativity, is it sufficient to achieve its value?

To be creative, you must do something different, creativity is all about change. To be creative, to re-frame, you need to do two things. First, you need to embrace the unknown (think outside the box). Second, you need to challenge the known (probe the paradoxes). Put another way, you need to both step up a level (n+1) and drill down a level (n-1). Thinking creatively  = creating a new box that could be used for thinking inside the new box, but out of the old box (for one or more class of problems). The infamous "box" can have many sides. It may be a geodesic shaped box with many faces. Fundamentally, the "box" is the set of "rules" you are abiding by at any moment in time. There are likely multiple "boxes" that you try to stay within. Working within multiple sets would create an "intersection of sets." The complexity of life comes from the myriad of intersecting boxes you try to live within.

Thinking in NEW box to harness creativity: "Thinking outside the box" generates all sorts of ideas- crazy and most unusual ones, whereas creativity by commonly accepted definition in creativity research is about generating novel and useful ideas- hence it is also about evaluation of ideas and selection which of them could be implemented, so the concept of thinking in new boxes is about getting a better understanding of the current boxes (mental models), figuring out which of them it makes sense to challenge, and then using creativity tools (exploring, divergence, convergence) to arrive at a useful new box. The very conceptualizing of 'the box' provides an artificial structure that limits the degree to which you can be creative. In other words, even if you are trying to be outside the box, the box provides an anchor regards our ability to conceptualize creatively. If a box is a mental model, you'll never be able to avoid them; the key is to find the right new boxes, thinking in new boxes.

Shaping a bigger box by making connections between different boxes: Rather than thinking outside of one particular box. Look at what other people have inside their boxes, find out how their ideas different from what's in your box, and then think about what new structures can be built in space not yet occupied by anyone's box. Good creativity needs a balance of divergent and convergent thinking, the latter isn't valued enough, and, in practice, usually takes more group time. Second, thinking outside the box is quite easy, compared to the political work in getting agreement to acknowledge that there is a market opportunity! We can have brilliant ideas, but too many of them dissolve into nothingness because they are not noticed and acknowledged for their relevance. Third, even if you have out-of-box thinking, plus the right balance of divergence and convergence, plus an agreement from people, there's the dull, hard work of implementation. Many ideas are lost because people give up. So the practice of creativity involves the mundane as much as the exciting.

To become creative, one would have to break down some old rules. After breaking the outdated rules, you are "outside the box." Thinking outside the box is all about "rule breaking"; the more "unruly" you are, the more creative you are. However, being "unruly" incurs risk, you need to set the updated rules for managing the innovation and mitigating the risks, just like shaping the new box to stay focus and achieve the value of creativity.


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