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When innovators talk about thinking outside the box, they
mean coming up with creative ways to solve problems - new ways to look at
things. How do they do it? How can you do it too? We first have to ask what the
"box" is. Then we can look at how to get outside of it.
"box" is the normal way of doing things and looking at things. It is
the assumptions that almost everyone involved is making. The best way to start
thinking out of the box then, is to identify and challenge all the assumptions
that make up thinking inside the box.
of the major liquor brands was faltering years ago, and they couldn't seem to
boost their sales. Promotions, lowering the price, getting better shelf
placement - these were the "in the box" solutions. Then someone
challenged the assumptions, by asking "What if we stopped the promotions
and just raised the price?"
price was raised as an experiment, and sales soon doubled. As it turns out,
some types of liquor are bought quite often as gifts. Buyers don't want to buy
the most expensive one, but they also don't want to seem cheap, so they won't
buy products that don't cost enough. Now imagine what happens to your profit
margins when you raise the price and double the sales. That's the power of
thinking outside of the box.
Ways To Get Outside The Box
assumptions is a powerful creative problem solving technique. The difficult
part is to identify the assumptions. If you are designing a new motorcycle,
write down assumptions like "speed matters," "it has to run on
gas" and "it needs two wheels," not because you expect to prove
these wrong, but because challenging these can lead to creative possibilities.
Maybe the time has come for an electric three-wheeled motorcycle.
way to get to creative solutions is to "assume the absurd." This is
either fun or annoying, depending on how open-minded you can be. All you do is
start making absurd assumptions, then finding ways to make sense of them. The
easiest way to do it is by asking "what if."
if a carpet cleaning business was better off with half as many customers? It
seems absurd, but work with it. Hmm...less stressful, perhaps. More profitable
if each customer was worth three times as much. Is that possible? Commercial
jobs that involve large easy-to-clean spaces (theaters, offices, convention
halls) make more money in a day than houses, with fewer headaches. Focusing on
getting those accounts could be the most profitable way to go - not so absurd.
Another way to more innovative ideas is to literally
do your thinking out of the box. Get out of the house or the office. Look
around at how others are doing things. On busses in Ecuador, salesmen put a
product into everyones hands and let them hold it while they do a sales pitch.
Then you have to give back "your" product or pay for it. It is very
effective. How could you use the principle in your business?