“Out of the box” – a popular metaphor for thinking afresh

September 04, 2013 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools |


Rating: none

When our thinking and solution finding gets stuck we feel that some “outside the box thinking” could bring us inspiration and insights.

By Nadia von Holzen, SDC



“We have to think out of the box.” Have you already heard or used this expression? What we mean is: We wish for new ideas to open up our minds and find a new pathway forward. We feel that some unusual questions or a change of perspective could shift our thinking.

 During the face-to-face meeting of the SDC networks Agriculture and Food Security in 2012, the “outside the box“ metaphor was used several times. The cartoonist Marlon created some great visual thinking.

We need to think out of the box. Let’s dare thinking alliances and the delegation of authority to others. (…) Let’s be innovative and not replicating what has been done in the past.  Michel Mordasini

Drawings think in/out the box by Marlon Böttger (

In the box

Where does the expression come from? Wikipedia says: The term is thought to derive from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s challenging their clients to solve the “nine dots” puzzle, whose solution requires some lateral thinking.

 The 9 dots are in the box, the solution is out of the box. What is the box about? How come that we are stuck? And how do we expand our thinking?

The box is a frame, the traditional way of thinking about a problem. In business, we are very good at in the box thinking because business is structured around the box, aka the Standard Operating Procedure. (Huffington Post Blog)

Getting stuck is often self-made. We get trapped by our own clever solutions and by our own way of thinking. We are prisoners of our own institutional bubbles. We are blinded in our own assumptions. By shifting our frames and structures and thinking habits we start thinking beyond the boxes!

Outside the box 

You cannot possibly think outside the box unless you understand the nature of the box that bounds your current thinking. You must come to know that nature deeply. You must have real insight into it. You must accept it, and embrace it at some level, before it will ever release you. (HRB Blog Network)

How do we manage to think about the things we don’t think about, our blind spots, and come up with new and unconventional ideas and open up many more possibilities? How can we think differently and change our perspective?

Here are three options to move beyond the box:

1. Stop rushing and listen (Innovation Excellence Blog)
2. Broaden your perspective by leaving for a learning journey
3. Let go, be present and connect to the inner source of knowing:

More ideas how to think outside the box:‘Outside-of-the-Box’



Comments to““Out of the box” – a popular metaphor for thinking afresh”

  1. Nadejda Loumbeva says:

    I completely agree with all that you say Nadia. It can be so hard to think out of the box, both in our professional and personal lives. Once we manage to do it, however, it is a thrilling and invigorating experience bringing in a flux of new ideas and related opportunities.

    To add, I am a big fan of the Presencing and U curve approaches. I was once taken through a U curve at a workshop. It was a rather magical experience. May be something to experiment with in our networks, working groups and joint learning journeys?


  2. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Nadia, many thanks for your thoughts. You mention a crucial word: experiment, opening up means trying out, taking (calculated) risks, test and observe.
    Still very much insirping for out of the box thinking is John Cleese (Monthy Phyton) telling us in 1991 (!) that “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” Here some links:
    Best, Nadia


Leave a Reply