During our time working with innovation we have encountered an awful lot of talk about “outside the box thinking”. The use of this phrase generates some problems. The most obvious problem is that it has been so frequently used that people tend to accept it without questioning what it means. “The box” is clearly a metaphor, but for what? If thinking outside the box is the key to new ideas and innovations, it is crucial to define what “the box” is. We interpret the term “the box” as the different constraints and limitations someone puts upon him- or herself when addressing a problem or a task. These constraints consist of all assumptions and beliefs a person has as well as perceived expectations from others. Thus thinking outside the box is a metaphor for discarding all the limitations and assumptions that constraint the thinking about a task. So when the term is used when for example starting up an ideation session, it could instead be put like this; let us discard all our assumptions and limitations about this task. That would make the meaning clearer, but the assumptions and limitations still need to be identified before they can be discarded. Suppose a person succeeded in identifying and discarding all constraints and assumptions, what happens then? He or she would end up with a problem or a task without any restrictions; a problem without a context. That might sound like the perfect creative environment, but it is not. Thinking inside the box is not really a problem. In fact, constraints are what enable creative thinking. It is very difficult, maybe even impossible, to start with a blank page and no constraints and from that achieve a creative outcome. In other words the box is needed in order to create new ideas. On the other hand, to try to ideate about a task with all assumptions and restrictions still unquestioned and in place is likely to lead to analytical thinking that cannot generate any new ideas. This is where re-boxing comes in. By not trying to get rid of all constraints, but rather replace them with other, new constraints a person can be successful in generating creative ideas. Every time the constraints are changed it forces the mind to address the problem from a new perspective and that is essential to the generation of new ideas. The workshops we have designed are based on different ideation methods, with the purpose of achieving this re-boxing of the situation or task by changing the participants’ assumptions and constraints. This is done in various ways; one example is when the participants are pushed to a new box when a random word or picture is presented as an association trigger in the ideation session. More examples of how re-boxing appears in the workshops are described in the following sections.
In short the concept re-boxing is all about changing the perspectives and ways that a task is thought of and addressed. This creative and explorative approach is fundamentally different from a purely analytical approach, in that the analytical approach generates a Boxing process where the exploring approach generates a Re-boxing process.