The phrase “think outside the box” is admittedly a bit of a cliché. Using it conjures up images of men in suits à la Mad Men trying to come up with the latest and greatest advertising slogan. In spite of that, thinking outside the box really does work. It helps us to approach problems in different ways.
This, more often than not, results in solutions that work better than we expect. In addition to this, approaching life in general using outside the box thinking can lead to a more creative and ultimately happier life. The challenge is in figuring out the best ways to adopt outside the box thinking. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to cause this important shift in your thought process.
Brainstorm Without Limit
Many people try to brainstorm, but they never get all of the benefits from the process that they can. This is because as soon as they throw out an idea, they edit themselves. Rather than just letting an idea come and then simply allowing it to exist, it is immediately judged as good or bad, or feasible or not feasible. The purpose of brainstorming isn’t to come up with the perfect solution that is guaranteed to work. The purpose is to think creatively and come up with as many ideas as possible. Then, when the brainstorming session is over, the various ideas can be examined. In many cases, an idea that seems completely off base will trigger a thought process or conversation that does lead to a great solution.
Look For Opportunities Within Problems
The problem with the way we approach problems is that we view them as a negative. They are, in most of our minds, bad things that we must make go away by finding solutions. The next time you have a problem, don’t move directly to the solution/eradication phase. Instead, ask yourself the following questions:
- What new thing can I learn from this?
- Can I create something that is bigger than just a single solution to this single problem?
- How can I create something beneficial out of this negative?
It’s great to find a solution to a problem. It’s even better to find an opportunity that you can use to do something truly great.
Use Limitations to Boost Creativity
Sometimes, having too many options actually has a negative effect on your problem-solving skills and creativity. This may be counterintuitive. After all, isn’t creativity about not placing limits on yourself? In some ways, this is true. You should never put limits on your potential, for example. On the other hand, working within parameters can sharpen your focus. It can also force you to use your mind in different ways. For example, think about doing an art project. You have two choices. You can go to the store and purchase all of the items you need to complete your art project, and then return home to work on your project. Your second option is to limit yourself to the items that you currently have in your own home. If you take the second option, you impose limits on yourself, but those limits can actually cause you to think more resourcefully.
Change up Your Daily Patterns And Routines
It is hard to adopt out-of-the box thinking when you continually do the same things in the same order every single day. When you change up your patterns and routines, you create changes in your brain that improve your ability to be flexible and open minded. In addition to this, strictly adhering to routines can actually cause stress. You feel anxious that you won’t get to the next step in your routine in a timely manner. It’s difficult to think in creative ways under these conditions. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to change things up. Here are a few things you can try:
- Take a different route to work
- Eat your lunch in a different location
- Change the order of your morning and evening routines
- Think of the first thing that you do when you get to the office, then do something different
- If you work out, change your routine
Look at Things From a New Perspective
Many people already do this in order to help themselves feel empathy towards others. This is great when you are dealing with somebody who is hurt, upset, or angry. However, that’s not exactly what “looking at things from a new perspective” means here. In this case, it means looking at the problem you are trying to solve from a new perspective. For example, what would a child recommend? How would somebody from another period in time handle this situation? If you were somebody with absolutely no experience in your field, what would be your thoughts if the problem were described to you? Changing your perspective can open your mind to ideas and solutions that would have never come to you otherwise.
Do Things That Are Unfamiliar
Just like routines can kill creativity, so can familiarity. This is why it is so important to do things that are new and unfamiliar to you. Unfamiliarity is uncomfortable for sure, but it’s how you expand your horizons, and how you learn new things. Of course, the best news is that your possibilities for immersing yourself in the unfamiliar are nearly limitless. You can…
- Take a walk in a neighborhood you’ve never visited
- Sample a new cuisine
- Read a book written by an author you’ve never heard of
- Learn a new language
- Take an art class at a community center
- Travel to a place you’ve never visited
- Learn to play a new sport
- Visit a museum or other place celebrating a culture that is not your own
Don’t Accept Without Questioning
Chances are, your workplace has established lots of policies, procedures, and best practices. Even if they aren’t written down, there are probably ways of doing things that have been established as ‘best.’ Unfortunately, all too often, policies and best practices often exist because “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” rather than “this practice has been questioned and challenged, and still stands out as best.” Unfortunately, you can’t think outside the box while blindly accepting things without questioning them. If you find yourself implementing a standard solution, question that. Is that really the best solution? What things do you know now that you didn’t when a particular policy was established? Was the person who created the policy or the practice infallible (even if that person is you)? Yes, you should even question your own opinions and thoughts.
Originally released on Collective Evolution.