Thinking Out of the Box (Definition, Benefits and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The phrase to think out of the box entails taking a creative approach to problems as compared to using a more conventional style of thinking. It involves viewing a problem from a different perspective, and it can help you create effective solutions. Learning to think out of the box can be beneficial for your career by enabling you to innovate solutions for various issues in the workplace. In this article, we discuss what thinking out of the box means, provide different ways to think creatively and list the benefits of doing so.

Related: What Is Lateral Thinking? (With Examples and Steps)

What does thinking out of the box mean?

Thinking out of the box is a phrase that means being imaginative and unconventional in your approach to challenges, be it in the workplace or your personal life. This type of creative thinking can be beneficial for professionals in all industries. It can be especially useful if you're working with limited resources, as applying this type of thinking can help you discover novel ways to resolve challenges or accomplish your goals.

'Box' is used figuratively to describe a way of life, thought pattern or personal and professional policies capable of restricting people from exploring their creative tendencies. Being in this box may have you thinking about and performing tasks in the same way, following the same procedures and being satisfied with the usual results you attain. Sometimes an organisation's structure and culture may impose this box on its employees. Thus, to think out of the box is to go outside of these conventions.

Why do professionals get stuck in a box?

There are several reasons why individuals may be stuck in a box within their workplace. Some of these are:

  • fear of uncertainty

  • desire for the traditional or conventional method

  • comfort in a specific role or routine

  • uncertainty about personal values

Benefits of thinking outside of the box

There are many benefits to thinking outside of the box, including the following:

Better perspective on life

Expanding your world view can give you a different perspective on the events happening in your life and career. If you're willing to consider different points of view and other methods of approaching issues, then you might be able to develop effective solutions. For example, an employee who's typically a pessimist might decide to flip their perspective and view their failure to meet work objectives as a fun challenge, much like the levels in a video game. This new mindset and approach to their work tasks could result in them performing even better than expected.

Higher-quality work

One of the factors that make companies successful is the quality of work their employees provide. Creative thinking can allow them to produce higher-quality work. For example, an employee in an administrative position might be the first one in the office to use a particular software in a unique way to simplify their work process. This new process can improve the overall efficiency of the company.

Greater creativity in problem-solving

Thinking uniquely could facilitate the growth of your career. This is because creative thinking often allows you to envision unorthodox approaches to problem-solving. For instance, a professional working in a logistic role might notice a challenge or obstacle that's currently affecting efficiency. They can use innovative thinking to brainstorm possible solutions. Rather than using the standard processes or procedures, they can think outside of the traditional strategies to help them create a new solution.

Related: Conceptual Skills: Definition, Steps, Types and Examples

More opportunities to create new ideas

One benefit of thinking uniquely is that it can lead to new inventions. For instance, scientists and product professionals often break out of the figurative box to help them generate new ideas. This can inspire them to create innovative products.

Higher adaptability

Regardless of the type of business you're involved with, one constant in your career might be change. Trends fluctuate invariably, often revolving around consumer needs and tastes. To keep up with this perpetual flux, it's crucial that you learn to think creatively and develop the foresight to identify future problems and create solutions for them. Doing this can help you retain your relevance. For instance, you can become more adaptable as a teacher if you think of new ways to interact with your students apart from conventional methods, while also evolving your teaching techniques.

Related: Adaptability Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

Greater individualism

Thinking expansively in your personal life and career might help to highlight your uniqueness. If you learn to think creatively, you can become an asset to yourself and others by being able to present a fresh, often unconsidered perspective on an issue. By approaching your career and business differently from the others, you may get a different and improved result that helps you to make a unique impression.

How to think outside of the box

Here are some strategies that can help you think outside the box:

1. Study other industries

Learning only about the areas that you directly work in can be restricting because you're familiarising yourself only with the conventional state of affairs. While it's good to attain knowledge, it's often better to expand your knowledge by learning about new subjects.

You can begin to do this by reading books and articles about other industries. You may discover some overlapping similarities in the problems that the various industries face, which might inspire you to brainstorm effective solutions. Accumulating knowledge and reading about how others solve their problems can broaden your perspective.

2. Complete mental exercises

An effective way to improve your creative thinking is to start your day with mental exercises. These exercises can be useful for lowering stress levels and increasing your attention to detail, both of which can help inspire innovation. Try to choose activities that don't relate to your work directly. This builds a unique mindset in you and can activate other aspects of thinking that you don't utilise regularly.

Some examples of mental exercises that you may practise are crossword puzzles, poetry prompts, creative writing, drawing and sudoku. Consider building a habit where you accomplish at least one of these exercises daily. This can help you strengthen your creative thinking skills.

3. Flip concepts or objects

Giving physical objects or ideas a new orientation by flipping them around can give you a fresh perspective on them. For example, when creating a new design, looking at it upside down might help you notice elements you previously hadn't. You can also do this with ideas. For example, if you have a long to-do list and you're unsure of where to start, you might ask yourself what the least important task is. This can help you identify which task is the most important.

Related: How to Show Creativity at Work (Plus Examples)

4. Change your environment

Setting up your workspace in a new environment may change your outlook on issues and inspire new approaches to resolving them. The change in location might also stimulate your colleagues and motivate them to become more visionary in approaching their duties. You can change your environment simply by moving to other parts of your office or by meeting outside of the typical workspace, such as at a cafe. If you work remotely, you may move into a different room to help inspire you.

5. Read opposing views

One of the fastest ways to learn when working on a project or attempting to solve a problem is to pay attention to opposing opinions or trends on the topic. You can achieve this by reading articles written by people whose opinions differ from yours. Doing this builds your open-mindedness and allows you to be more flexible in your thinking.

6. Learn new skills

Attaining new skills, especially those not related to your field, helps you engage the under-utilised parts of your brain. A straightforward way to begin doing this is by learning a new language, even if it's just a couple of phrases. This challenges your mind, improves your mental skills and makes you more adaptable in the process. You may also attend workshops on critical thinking and analysis, as these can help you develop your thought processes.

Related: 9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How to Develop Them

7. Be random

Being strict about following processes and rules can sometimes limit out-of-the-box thinking. This is why it's ideal to consider introducing randomness into your office work, activities and problem-solving. One way to introduce randomness is to embrace switching the order of doing things or even discussing ideas with colleagues outside the team. These can help you be less restrictive and move beyond the everyday patterns to produce out-of-the-box results.

Related: What Is Ideation? Tips for a Successful Creative Process

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