“Think outside the box”

“Think outside the box”

The phrase “think outside the box” is often used to describe Design Thinking or parts of it. Yet, this interpretation of the phrase could not be further from the truth!

In fact, the phrase refers to the patterns of thinking we develop for activities and knowledge we use in our daily lives. Humans are wired to transfer the principles of one situation to another situation that is similar. It saves us a lot of effort not having to begin from scratch every time we do something new.

However, as we make constant use of these ingrained patterns, it becomes more difficult for us to challenge our assumptions and knowledge. Take a look at the following example of Rikke Dam & Teo Siang:

Consider a truck that tried to squeeze under a bridge, but got stuck while doing so. As police and firefighters arrive at the scene, traffic starts to pile up. A discussion erupts on how to clear the truck. The truck driver concludes that he can’t move the truck, as it won’t budge. The firefighters pitch the idea of using power tools to cut the truck in smaller pieces. Meanwhile, the police is waiting for their tow truck to arrive. But it soon becomes clear that the tow truck is stuck in the jammed traffic, unable to reach the scene.

The discussion proceeds until a kid passes the scene. He observes the truck and then suggests: “Why not flatten the tires?” The simple solution baffles the others. The experts let out the air in the tires and see the truck moving from underneath the bridge without further complications.

Due to the self-imposed constraints we work with, we run the risk of overlooking obvious answers to a situation. Our ingrained patterns of thinking hinder us from exploring ideas that do not fit our knowledge. True innovation happens when we break out of our ingrained patterns. In other words, we should think outside the box.

Olivier Wouters

Olivier grew up in a design office. The designers and architects there showed him how to use design to innovate. In 2016 he graduated as MSc Information Studies: Human Centered Multimedia at the University of Amsterdam. He since specialised in Design Thinking and Meaning-Driven Innovation.