Thinking And The Box



What comes to your mind when you hear the word think or thinking?

We have unconsciously been programmed to believe that creative thinking can only be achieved when it is associated with a box. Referring to the box, we have 2 different schools of thought:

  1. Those who believe that creative thinking can only be done outside the box as contained in the catchphrase ‘think outside the box’.
  2. Those who believe that creative thinking should be done inside the box as contained in the catchphrase ‘think inside the box’.

The more popular of the two catchphrases is the ‘Think inside the box’ school of thought.

The way the ‘Think outside the box’ phrase is frequently used, makes one wonder if it contains some wonder thinking magic that’ll aid the thinker reason better on the subject he/she is required to think on/about. Funny enough, some people who use the catchphrase do not even know it’s history or origin.

So for today’s e-boost, I’ll like us to consider Thinking and The Box: How should we think – Inside or outside the box? Have you ever even wondered what it means to think inside or outside the box? I have, several times actually. But just before I tell you my thoughts, here’s a little request from moi:

Dear ghost readers, please say something in the comment box. Thank you! #anticipating

Okay, back to the questions, let’s first look at some dictionary definitions for the words Thinking and Think

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Thinking means:

  • the action of using your mind to produce ideas, decisions, memories, etc.
  • the activity of thinking about something, opinion or judgment
  • a way of thinking that is characteristic of a particular group, time period, etc.

The defines the word Think as:

– to ponder, to go over in one’s head

– To communicate to oneself in one’s mind, to try to find a solution to a problem.

– To conceive of something or someone (usually followed by of or on)

– To be of the opinion (that).

– To guess; to reckon, to consider, judge, regard, or look upon (something) as.

– An act of thinking; consideration (of something).

Thinking can refer to the act of producing thoughts or the process of producing thoughts. In spite of the fact that thought is a fundamental human activity familiar to everyone, there is no generally accepted agreement as to what thought is or how it is created. (

Think Outside The Box


Did some research to find out the origin of the ‘Think outside the box’ cliché’ and here’s what I found –

In the early 1970s, a psychologist named J. P. Guilford conducted a study of creativity called the nine-dot puzzle. In the 9-dot puzzle, he challenged research subjects to connect all nine dots using just four straight lines without lifting their pencils from the page. At the first stage, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square. Even though they weren’t instructed to restrain themselves from considering such a solution, they were unable to “see” the white space beyond the square’s boundaries, (even those who eventually solved the puzzle). Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.


The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box. The idea went viral. Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box. (Culled from

The traditional view of creativity is that it is unstructured and doesn’t follow rules or patterns. Hence would-be innovators are told to “think outside the box.”

According to this school of thought, thinking outside the box means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before. Ironically, it’s a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in ways that aren’t clichéd (

Think Inside The Box

Think Inside the box

To think inside the box as defined by means:

“to think in traditional fashion, bound by old, nonfunctional, or limiting structures, rules, or practices.”

This second school of thought believes that creativity stems from ‘thinking inside the box’. According to them, it isn’t that people cannot come up with ‘out of the box’ unconventional ideas/solutions. But they are rather concerned that in the quest to think outside the box, some people have come up with too many ideas that either fail to add value and/or make life far harder than it has to be.

They believe that people are at their most creative when they focus on the internal aspects of a situation or problem—and when they constrain their options rather than broaden them.

In support of the ‘Think inside the box’ school of thought, Christopher Peterson had this to say: – “If you never venture outside the box, you will probably not be creative. But if you never get inside the box, you will certainly be stupid”. (Harsh? I know)

Paul B. Brown had this to say about ‘thinking in the box’

I believe innovative ideas that you can make a reality are the biggest source of competitive advantage there is. I also believe you want to be extremely careful of justifying an idea, simply because it represents out of the box thinking. But next time you are tempted to think outside the box, ask yourself: Is that the best solution here?

My Thoughts and Opinion

As a Software Test Analyst, we were taught the importance of thinking outside (Black-box Testing) and thinking inside the box (White-box Testing) when testing for defects in an application. This is because, Software Testing relies heavily on a Tester’s ability to have critical eyes attuned to finding defects in an application. You can’t afford to focus ‘outside’ the box in order to catch rare bugs and over-look the ‘inside’ of the box, where some easily overlooked defects can be found. You need to have a balanced thinking, looking both within and outside the box, in order to catch defects wherever they are located. Focusing on just one side – outside or inside, can lead to application failures because If you focus on ‘thinking outside the box,’ you may succeed in catching the difficult rare defects but you’ll likely miss out on catching the ‘little’ easy to spot defects ‘inside the box’ (the reverse is also true), which can eventually turn out to be show-stoppers in the application.

If I am to take sides with any of the schools of thought, I will choose to ‘think inside the box’ before venturing outside of it. I once met a wise elderly man who gave me some sound advice that has helped me. He said, “this job requires creative thinking and creative thinking demands that you have to first exhaust all the creative ideas within the box before you start thinking outside the box.”

This advice means you have to first think of solutions that already exist for solving a particular or related issue (after all, nothing is new under the sun) before thinking of novel ideas for solving that issue.

I personally believe the concepts of thinking inside or outside the box distracts our ability and focus to think creatively. This is because, once you think relative to a box, the mental image of a box brings on some level of limitation, consciously or unconsciously. So when next you are required to think, just think – leave the box out of it! I’ll end today’s e-Boost with this scripture on thinking:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

Wishing y’all a Fruitful day and successful rest of week.



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