# Thinking outside the box

We're often told that it's helpful to think outside the box. But what is the box we need to think outside of? And what happens when we think inside the box? I've been searching everywhere for the box but I can't find it. Has anybody got it?

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#### S.G. Janssens

We're often told that it's helpful to think outside the box.
It is just management speak, in my opinion. I tend to take users of this phrase less seriously.

#### gleem

When we try to solve a problem we may set up constraints or make assumptions consciously or not thus defining a domain or " box" in which only a certain set of solutions are presented.which are not solutions to the problem resulting in paradoxes or contradictions. So thinking outide the box involves examining the assumption and constraints to expand the domain of solutions.

#### gleem

An example of such a problem.

#### rxrus

What is thinking inside of the box? Not having a full picture?

#### DaveC426913

Gold Member
Depends on the context.

In, say, the advertizing industry, it might mean discarding cliches and hackneyed tropes to be replaced with original ideas.

In the science field, thinking outside the box is almost always a rationalization for 'I have not studied the box, and therefore don't know where its boundaries are, what it should contain or what it does not contain, but you're all sheeple and here's my doodle explaining push gravity, PPMs and Cosmological Expansion'

But what is the box we need to think outside of?
This.

What is thinking inside of the box? Not having a full picture?
And definitely this.

#### DaveC426913

Gold Member
A landscaper has just planted 5 rows of 4 trees. His his billing clerk confirms the planting 20 trees at \$59.99 each. The landscaper corrects him "no just charge him for 10 trees". The clerk replies " Are you giving him 10 free trees? Is he?
Thinking inside the box:

First thing we do is picture a 4x5 grid, right?
Assumes that the 5 rows are all parallel.
Assumes one tree can only occupy one row.

#### houlahound

The phrase IMO is as lame as management demanding a quantum leap in productivity. I'm like sure that's about the smallest increment in improvement current physics can measure.... they never get it.

#### Ibix

Agree with @gleem. For example, as I understand it during World War II the Germans were aware of weaknesses in the Enigma cryptographic scheme, but were confident that all they did was take the key space from "insanely huge" to merely "way too big to search in tactically useful time". Turing and company didn't find more weaknesses in the cryptography - they just came up with a truly innovative way to make brute force practical for the rest of it.

The box, in that case, is the prevailing (implicit) assumption that brute force is too slow to search large solution spaces. Inside the box is looking for analytical techniques to cut the size of the space. Outside the box is inventing an electromechanical device to search the solution space for you.

@Krylov is also correct that the term is often used as meaningless management nonsense. And it's certainly a highly subjective term. But I think there is a sensible meaning there.

#### gleem

The origin of the phrase might have come from a 1914 puzzle in which the challenge was to connect all 9 dots on 3x3 grid with a continuous line that has a minimum number of segments. .

#### houlahound

Platform atheist is another interesting phrase in software engineering.

#### DaveC426913

Gold Member
The origin of the phrase might have come from a 1914 puzzle in which the challenge was to connect all 9 dots on 3x3 grid with a continuous line that has a minimum number of segments. .
Indeed, that is a great puzzle - deliciously apropos of the phrase 'think outside the box'.

Here it is:

Draw 4 continuous, connected, straight lines, crossing all dots through their centres.

For you nitpickers who like to think too far outside the box :
continuous: no broken lines. A line has exactly one start point and one end point
connected: if you were using a pencil, you would not be able to lift it off the page
straight: self-explanatory
centres: treat the dots as 0 dimensional points

No peeking!

#### DaveC426913

Gold Member
Platform atheist is another interesting phrase in software engineering.
Always been platform agnostic where I come form.

#### houlahound

Does that make Apple staff platform evangelicals?

Gold Member

#### houlahound

My photons travel further than yours so the post takes longer to appear in full, I does physics.

#### Averagesupernova

Gold Member
In my experience those who use that phrase the most are least able to actually do it, if it even is such a thing.

Mentor
2018 Award

#### houlahound

I think the phrase is a desperate cry for help by someone who faked their way into management.

The enemy has breached the perimeter defences and are advancing rapidly and in force. There is nowhere to fall back to, ammunition is low, there is no back up force, no resupply. the private looks to corporal who looks to the sargent who looks to the lieutenant who looks to the captain who looks to the company commander who yells down the line - men....think outside the box.

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#### gleem

It is also right up there with another one of managements favorite aphorisms "Do more wit less"

#### Mark44

Mentor
I'm going to disagree with several of you in this thread. "Thinking outside the box" is not just "management-speak", but can be good advice in many cases, forcing you to consider whether you are operating with assumptions that might be invalid.

I'm a long-time fan of crossword puzzles, and have been working the New York Times puzzle every day for nearly the last forty years. The editors of these puzzles, Eugene Maleska (until his death in 1993) and Will Shortz, go out of their way to be tricky, especially in the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday puzzles. If you aren't open to different interpretations on a clue's meaning, the puzzles will be difficult or impossible to work.

Some examples:
Clue: "Group getting its kicks"
If you interpret this to mean people who are enjoying some activity, you might guess HEDONISTS, or some other synonym. The actual answer is CHORUSLINE.

Clue:"Expert savers"
If you're thinking along the lines of PENNYPINCHERS or some other synonym that implies being economical, you're guilty of "thinking inside the box." The answer here is GOALIES.

These aren't the best examples -- they're just a couple of clues I picked out of Saturday's NYT crossword. The point is, when we communicate with each other, how we interpret what we hear is often different from what the speaker really intended. If you approach the problem thinking that there is only one possible meaning, you might be operating with flawed assumptions.

#### houlahound

If management made the effort to define the box they accuse people of being in then we might all better be able to critically examine the flaws in our assumptions.

#### QuantumQuest

Gold Member
I'll agree to Mark44. I use to think it in a rather mathematical manner, but the concept extends well in other fields and aspects of everyday life. The "box" is the context of a problem with whatever given, assumptions and constraints expresses or implies and the usual more or less specific way(s) to tackle it. So, thinking outside the "box", at least to my understanding, is get out of what I previously described and tackle the problem in often unconventional or paradoxical way(s) or in many cases in every conceivable manner. But I think the term has become quite a bit fashionable and it is misused in many cases.

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