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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 11:55 GMT
Out of the box: Time to get an idea

out of the box, adj, buzzword, management-speak, usu. as part of phrase: "Let's think out of the box," or "outside the box"; Consultants run many courses explaining what "out of the box thinking" actually is. But it is in fact no more than the old fashioned concept of getting an idea.

RELATED 1: to psychological concepts of convergent thinking and divergent thinking. The former would, by extension, be thinking inside the box, ie - solving problems with reference to prior experience. The latter would be thinking outside the box, ie - getting an idea.

RELATED 2: to similar buzzwords, eg pushing the envelope, blue sky thinking, creative brainstorming, outside the decision maxtrix (or parameters). All of them mean the old fashioned concept of getting an idea.

ASSOCIATIONS: What does the box refer to?

  • Is it a computer, in the sense of Imagine what this baby could do?
  • Or is it a baseball diamond, as in Let's hit this ball a very long way?
  • Or is it a coffin, as in This organisation is nearly dead?

USAGE: Fast Company magazine, issue 8: "Forget the experience curve. The most powerful force in business is the inexperience curve... If you want your company to think outside the box, why not learn by working with people who don't even know there is a box?"


Fig 1. Join the dots (with just four lines)
TYPICAL MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT ILLUSTRATION: Draw nine spots, as in fig one. Now without lifting your pen from the paper, draw four straight lines which go through all the dots.

If you find it too hard to do, perhaps convergent thinking is your thing. You had better click here for the answer.

REAL LIFE ILLUSTRATION: Adam Hughes, 17, a Liverpool schoolboy, who did two weeks' work experience at a barcode printing firm on Merseyside. Instead of making tea, sitting around and getting bored, (ie - what work experience usually means), Hughes devised an online ordering system for the company.

This new system won the company new business worth 672,000. According to reports, this new business saved the company from bankruptcy.


Reader Ian Davies adds: Were I to draw a capital E by drawing along the top, down the left, and along the bottom, then retracing my line to the middle of the left, then across, I would have drawn 4 straight lines, and remained in the box, hence proving that anything management consultants suggest is "a pile of pants".


Questions and comments about this, or other issues, to newsonline.features@bbc.co.uk

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