Think Inside the Box (What It Is and When to Do It)

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You've probably been told to "think outside the box." Which means to think creatively.

But it's not the only way to be creative.

You can also be creative and mentally healthy by thinking inside the box.

To keep your life fresh and interesting, you need creative thinking and the ability to come up with new and better ideas.

That's where thinking inside the box comes from.

Though it may at first seem counterintuitive, it's a powerful method for idea generation and problem-solving.

Whereas traditional brainstorming might lead to plenty of zany, off-the-wall ideas, thinking inside the box is a new kind of brainstorming session.

Today you're going to learn how think inside the box--and why it's such a good idea in the first place.

The Downsides of Thinking Outside the Box

woman in museum thinking outside the box while staring at huge floating box

But first, let's discuss the dangers of the more common type of thinking--thinking outside of the box. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are actually some very good reasons that traditional brainstorming / outside-the box thinking doesn't work.

If someone tells me to do this, it's usually because they're frustrated with the situation. They don't like the outcomes, and so they bellow to those around them that they need to be more creative. What they're really saying is that they don't understand why what's in front of them in not materializing what they originally envisioned. And so they want other people to think outside the box to come up with new ideas.

Don't get me wrong. Thinking outside the box has its place. Drawing in new ideas that aren't related to the current ones can be an effective strategy. But it's only effective if there are already clear parameters in mind, if there is a goal that the person or group is working towards.

And for that, you need a box. You need a square in which to begin.

The Benefits of Thinking Inside the Box

two wooden boxes next to each other

The box is the starting point. It doesn't have to be constraining. In fact, it's a solid place to start a journey and develop an innovative plan.

If you want to accomplish something, even if what you're trying to accomplish is an innovative plan, you need to start with clear thinking. And that starts with constructing the box that describes your mission. It could be a small box or a large box. The size of it will be determined by the scope of your project of task. But it will be a box all the same.

Here's what I do if I'm tackling something new. This is a basic approach to Think Inside the Box.

1. Start with the walls of the box

What are the sides of my project? What are the left and right boundaries? In other words, what is the nature of the work I'm doing? It's crucially important that you determine what it is you're focusing on first and foremost. In this case, these focused questions are your friends. Are you setting up a support group, or are you writing a letter to a friend? Determining what something isn't is as important as determining what it is. To think inside the box, you need left and right boundaries. Determine as clearly as you can what you want from this work that you're about to do.

2. Then build the top of the box

What about the bottom? you might be wondering. You're the bottom, Silly Goose. You're building a box around you. It's the top that matters. The top is the upper limit of your project. It's the ideal amount of effort you'd like to put into this. It's time limits and deadlines. It's a predesignated point of departure. Deadlines and clear endpoints inspire action. They set your brain on a goal that can be accomplished. Decide what "good enough" looks like for you. Being perfect is not realistic. If you decide that, then the top of your box is outer space--you'll never get there. But if you have a realistic deadline or endpoint, success is within your grasp.

When to Break Free From Inside the Box

And there you have it. A box gives you a solid foundation and a safe place to begin.

But you knew this next part was coming, right? Eventually, there will come a time when you want to move forward and try something new.

That's always an option. You can always be more creative.

But first, you need a model.

And a perfect model just so happens to be a box.

Build whatever box you desire. And then break free.

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