Solutions can extend beyond your department or your perceived limitations, so make sure to explore.

Think outside the box, but what is the box, and how does it look for each problem? What are the rules or the limits to the problem? How many of those rules did you assume, and how many did you confirm? Challenging the box can lead to increased efficiency and creativity. 

We often assume how the “box” of a situation looks based on previous experiences and patterns. However, we need to recognise that problems tend to be new all the time, so applying old patterns might only lead to limited solutions. While objective boundaries exist, it is of value to understand them with clarity to avoid assuming the wrong or nonexistent limitations.

Exploring outside of our perceived limits can be done as a group (such as a brainstorming session) or independently. These are some of the methods you can use to think outside of the box while exploring ideas by yourself:

a. Clarify the limits objectively so that you can see how broad is the space that the problem/task offers.

     >> What is a must about this task or problem, and what is optional? (What must happen no matter what? What is a must have? What is nice to have? What would be great to happen but seems hard to achieve?)

     >> What are the resources you are working with? (Who are the people who must be involved? Who are some people who are available and could be accessed? How much time is there to work on it? What financial/other non-financial resources can be accessed?)

     >> What are the set aspects of the process? (Approvals needed, participation, structures, documentation etc.)

b. Change your space to allow for new perspectives – While the problem stays work or office related, nothing stops you from doing your ideation exercises in a cafe over lunch, in the park across the street, in the store where your company product is being sold, in a separate workspace where you don’t usually spend time etc.. A new space will allow you to step out of the usual routine and access new ideas.

c. Re-conceptualise the problem/task – How would the client see this as a problem? How would the CEO see it as a problem? Change the angle you are viewing the problem to understand additional layers of it.

d. Consider the worst case scenario to push you to consider various risks – What is the worst that can happen if the problem doesn’t get addressed, or if a certain solution gets implemented?

e. Study another industry – If you work in finance, how might an IT company deal with this issue? If you are in the HR department, how would the sales department address something like this?

f. Interview people to understand their experience, needs, or wishes – This could be the future or current user of the product or service, possible customers, or whoever will be on the receiving end of the solution.

g. Design an empathy map of the people facing the problem or the ones who will receive the product, service, or solution – This activity enables you to compile your observations and knowledge of the receivers and contour a detailed persona that can inform your approach towards the solution.

Extra resources

1. Think outside of the box

2. Why ‘Thinking outside of the box’ is the wrong way to approach innovation

3. Youtube: What is an empathy map?