It’s  a great shame that the meaning has been lost in the mists of time because it is probably one of the most sought after attributes of modern managers and leaders. In this age of “quicker, faster, better, cheaper” anyone who can ‘Think Outside The Box’ is a likely source of innovation and a catalyst for significant step change in their organisation. We know it means to come up with unusual solutions, perhaps quirky ideas and we also know it is the basis for entrepreneurial flair.

So, let me explain what this ‘box’ is and then test how well you think outside it! 

Imagine you have asked the question: “How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?” If you then plot the answers you might see the following graph…..

This shows the number of people and the number of uses they gave. For example around 28 people gave 40 uses, 5 people only came up with 5 uses and about the same number came up with 80 uses! If we then show this as a distribution curve you get the diagram above (with apologies to my mathematics teacher who even now is turning in his grave along with my English teacher at my poor grammar, but I’m sure you understand what I am getting at…..)

Now our famous box appears! It is essentially the area represented by the most popular number of uses by the most number of people! In other words whenever you ran this exercise you would expect the majority of people to find between 25 and 60 uses. (I‘m sure someone out there who understands distribution curves and standard deviations will explain that much better than me)

Anyway, ‘thinking outside the box’ is the area to the right whereby a few bright sparks found 80 uses for this ubiquitous paper clip.

Why does this matter at all? Well, if you can think outside the box (in the right direction) imagine what new ideas and creative solutions you would generate. Your business would become sensationally innovative and unique in the market place with customers beating a path to your door. You would come up with solutions that your competitors had never even thought of……

So, here’s the tester, can you think outside the box? 

Mr & Mrs Jones were young and active people. Their next door neighbour, Mrs Jackson, was a 93 year old invalid. One day, they asked her into their house to do something that neither of them could do. There was no skill that she had that one of them did not have, so why did they need her help?

Without looking it up, the first correct answer to entitled ‘Outside the Box’ will win a small prize (could have something to do with a box…!)