Over the past 15 years, I have searched for parameters on how to think outside the box. I’ve lectured and mentored theses on creativity. I’ve delivered innovation workshops and seminars on creative skills and creative leadership. I’ve been to Silicon Valley and lived with Googlers, techies, and entrepreneurs. I’ve interviewed over 1,000 people in San Francisco and New York on creative thinking. In this article, I will deliver some key insights on how to train outside-the-box thinking.
By Robert Gerlach, Creativity Coach, IQudo sport of ideas
1. Believe comes first
You might ask, “Will this article be of any help if I don’t consider myself creative?” May I ask in response, “Have you ever been a child?”
Every child is resourceful – at least until they start school.
Switching to a creative mindset requires first believing in your innate resourcefulness. This may sound 1st-grade, but faith is a force when it comes to outside-the-box thinking.
Your mantra could be as simple as that: “Yes, I am creative!“ Repeat it out loud. ……
How does it make you feel?
2. Run out of the box
According to the IQudo Ideation Survey (2016), 32 percent* of the respondents believed to have their best ideas while running, bicycling, and walking.
- Exercise facilitates the formation of new nerve cells.
- Levels of hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine are elevated.
- Higher blood flow increases the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the brain.
- Conscious and unconscious thinking is stimulated.
- The cooperation of both hemispheres is increased.
Whenever I feel stuck, I go for a meditative run. I always return home with a bucket full of ideas, feeling inspired from within. Actually, I don’t call it running, it’s just another mode of work. No matter where I am or and what I am doing, the brain is running anyhow. My only job is to make sure that it’s running well.
3. Train with others
Before now, creativity was thought to depend mostly on the individual. But, other people are one of the key sources for thinking outside the box. According to our research with 155 engineers of the automobile manufacturer Daimler, we found that 52 percent* of the respondents believed in inspirational talks with co-workers as a source for creative insights.
To accelerate out-of-the-box thinking talk with friends or ask someone you don’t know in a coffee shop about your idea. Other people see your problem from a birds-eye view and thereby open the horizon for unusual solutions. Actually, I have my best talks with cab drivers …
4. Get off the treadmill
If you’ve always been super busy, take a risk and release yourself from your routine, your yoga classes, your apps, your friends, and make fruitful space for monotony. Silence is crucial because you connect with your inner source. Going on a hike or on vacation over the weekend is a good start to escape your routine. Of course, you could as well try a 10 days meditation retreat… or go to the desert for 40 days.
Taking time out can be compared to a sprint in outside-the-box thinking. It is like rising out of a soup bowl you are circling in. Standing on the edge of the lip, you see everything from a remote perspective. Things become clearer and insights unfold.
5. Drop the rules
A number of personality characteristics have been shown to be associated with out-of-the-box thinking. One of these is individual freedom: creative people tend to be independent.
For instance, in this article, I’m not using “outside the box” in every headline. Therefore, it will probably score very low on Google’s search engine. Even worse instead of “think outside the box”, I write “train outside the box,” which no one will search for.
I don’t care.
Yes, to make a living, we need to obey to rules, like in my case, increasing the quantity of website traffic by following the Google requirements. But hey, I just do this for fun, because I have a day off and most of all, it gives me the feeling of total freedom! Freedom is the gateway to out-of-the-box thinking because you do not limit yourself to play by the rules. Instead, you start thinking like, “Hey, what if I …?” “And, why not?!” After all, life is an experiment. It is only when we get lost that we can find ourselves.
6. Clear your mind
Do whatever clears the clouds in your head. Meditate, take a Yoga class, or if you operate from a home office, simply go do your laundry.
7. Stay clear from naysayers
Stay away from naysayers and know-it-alls. Naysayers are motivated by fear. They don’t dare to step into the unknown. Know-it-alls feel their social status threatened by new ideas, therefore they will try to ignore or destroy anything that is outside their comfort zone. Look out for open-minded people. You want an atmosphere that’s full of dopamine in order to think outside the box.
Who should you stay away from?
Who should you meet more often?
8. Stay with the challenge
Albert Einstein once said: “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” Give yourself a little overtime, maybe five or ten or 30 minutes. It’s like in weight training or running. Lift just one more rep or run a bit further. Besides, it’s rewarding to stay a little longer. The best ideas very often come at the very end.
Thinking out of the box can be compared to watching a thriller. The director takes you on a rollercoaster ride until finally, the unexpected solution presents itself. Except that thinking of creative solutions is real and you are the director.
8 1/2. Finish with Innovator’s High
If you finish a long creative workout with a great idea, you’ll feel euphoric and self-effective. Furthermore, you condition yourself for the better, because you subconsciously know that you will feel awesome after a workout, and you’ll be looking forward to the next out-of-the-box training workout.
* Multiple answers possible
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Want to know more about how to think outside the box? Have a look at Innovator’s High. This jam-packed guide comes with 96 tips to help you to train your creative muscle. Innovator’s High is for anyone creative, everyone who thinks they are not creative, and especially supervisors who need to manage and motivate out-of-the-box thinkers.
Illustration by Marco Boetti
About Robert Gerlach: Driven by the question: “Why am I creative in one company and not in another?”, Robert founded the training academy IQudo® sport of ideas in 2006. Since then, the creativity coach has pioneered the invention of new methodologies, such as Dual Thinking, to help facilitate creative knowledge to designers, employees, and managers of numerous companies, such as Amway, Microsoft BASF, Google, SAP, and Samsung. To stay on top of the creativity game, the German-born coach mentors theses at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT-EnTechnon).
IQudo® sport of ideas trains professionals to think outside of the box to stay ahead of the game