What is a paperclip? The Merriam Webster online dictionary describes the humble paperclip as follows: “A length of wire bent into flat loops that is used to hold papers together.” This is exactly how most of us would describe it if asked to give a definition, but how would you describe it if you had absolutely no context and have never seen a paperclip before. This is when you start to think outside the box.
Would it still be a paper holder? Or instead, could it be the perfect bookmark to track your place inside a book? Is it something you bend around a set of unruly chords to tidy up a living room? Or in today’s technological era is the humble paperclip something we use to push the tiny reset button on the side of our iPhone or scratch the hidden numbers on a winning lottery ticket? Or more disgusting still, a tool used to clear away the grime and dirt from underneath your fingernails?
Your answer illustrates how you think. Do you think inside the box or are you a more adventurous and exciting out of the box kind of thinker?
The phrase “Think outside the box” is a popular expression used to encourage ideas, innovation, and creativity. In this context, “the box” can refer to the boundaries of traditional thought patterns and ideas. It can also be seen as an example of what Albert Einstein famously referred to as “thinking in circles” – a habit of relying on the same ideas and techniques to solve a problem rather than seeking out new, creative solutions. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, relying on the same ideas and techniques to solve problems without seeking out innovative solutions.
The more literal meanings, facts, experience and understanding you have of any given subject, or the more you work with it daily, the more limitations around your thinking when asked to brainstorm, solve problems and come up with unique and different uses.
In 1968, George Land and Beth Jarman conducted a creativity experiment on 1600 5-year-olds to find out how creative they were. This is the same test NASA uses to select the most innovative engineers and scientists to join their ranks. In a nutshell the task was simple, how many uses for the paperclip could they come up with.
They repeated the experiment with the children at ages 10 and 15 and then also proceeded to test 280 000 adults. We might think that adults are better thinkers and have all the answers due to their many years of experience and education, but the results are surprising.
In Land’s research the number of children who scored in the “highly creative” range were as follows:
The ability to think outside the box and come up with ideas decreases with age.
This could only mean one of two things. Perhaps you should invite your 5-year-old son to sit in on your next brainstorming session and ask him what he thinks, who knows he might just be able to come up with the million-dollar solution that has been evading you for so many months coming from a totally unrelated thinking angle to the one you are used to. If this is not something your CEO would appreciate, perhaps we need to pay more attention and nurture a culture of creativity in our workplace and homes. That means stretching thinking, and encouraging people to come up with unconventional new thoughts and ideas around a subject.
Perhaps both the education and business sectors can learn from this experiment. Is our educational system failing its learners when it comes to teaching them how to think? Are we placing too many restraints around thinking and ideas in the classroom? Are we boxing all our children into the same moulds by given them the same parameters in which to think and solve problems?
Does the workplace provide no emphasis on innovative thinking and problem solving at all? Is thit something that should warrant more attention. Or are we happy with a 2% creativity factor at work? Is there a huge untapped are of potential that we could be utilising to increase our sales and productivity all round?
Challenging yourself to think “outside the box” is a great way to expand your horizons and break free from conventional ideas. By doing this, you can open a world of fresh ideas and possibilities!
The phrase “Think outside the box” is an essential reminder that ideas can come from anywhere and that with a bit of creativity, you can find solutions to almost any problem. It is an important call-to-action to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and seek new ideas. By doing this, we can open a world of possibilities! When it comes to thinking outside the box, Albert Einstein said it best: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
Let go of your preconceived ideas and think outside the box – who knows what amazing and yet untapped ideas may be lying dormant. Next time you find yourself stuck in an idea-rut, take Albert Einstein’s advice and remember that ideas can come from anywhere. Get creative, break free from conventional thoughts, and start thinking outside the box today! Who knows what amazing ideas you’ll discover!
CULTIVATING A CULTURE OF INNOVATION & CREATIVITY
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