Free Your Mind – Burn the Box – by Mr Mark Fuller

A common phrase used in today’s VUCA world is “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX”. Often it is used when managers or leaders require others to be more creative and innovative. HOWEVER, do we really know what is being asked of others or ourselves?

When we talk about “thinking inside the box”, we usually mean that our thinking is logical, circular, and rigid. Shelton and Darling (2001) suggest that this type of thinking is language-based, linking words and phrases together. It is challenging to make illogical connections and random links because the words and phrases must link together logically to make sense. For this reason, it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to hold two contradictory or opposing ideas in our brain at the same time using “in the box” thinking. The result is not being able to identify or consider potential solutions and opportunities.

This structured, “in the box” deductive reasoning comprises of four types of thinking:

Rigid thinking is where your mind is closed to new thoughts because you believe that you already have all the answers. It is where you believe that your opinion is the best or most important. You have already decided on a course of action, so do not need to listen to others. The resulting behavior could be where others are interrupted continuously when discussing their ideas and not given a chance to explain. Decisions are made quickly, usually without thinking about unintended consequences. Old thinking and habits are embedded because change is uncomfortable.

According to David Rock (2009), Logical thinking uses our conscious brain, which limits our thinking. This thinking deals with formulating language, planning, and setting SMART goals. It is referred to as ‘managerial thinking’, in which the questions who, what, when, where, why and how are answered. Many businesses use logical thinking when developing or reviewing their strategy. Deductive reasoning generates facts to build the new strategy based on research of markets, industry, past performance and missed opportunities. Even though critical thinking skills, based on logic, are used in evaluating creative ideas, they stifle innovative thinking.

Circular thinking is also, according to Britannica (2020), known as ‘begging the question’. It is considered false reasoning because conclusions or projected outcomes support the premises using deductive reasoning and logic. An example of that is the response often given by companies for not hiring graduates.

Companies will not hire graduates because they do not have experience. Graduates can only get experience if they are hired by companies.

Binary thinking is thinking in black and white instead of shades of grey. The result is that options, positions, or opportunities are mutually exclusive, so decision making follows the “path of least resistance”. Assumptions and generalisations are made, often leading to conflict, and missed opportunities.

Convergent thinking, according to Joy Guilford (in NLP Notes, 2015), is organising information or ideas in a logical and structured manner to find a single solution. These ideas are generated through divergent thinking, which is discussed later. Answering questions in ‘mode one’ or rote learning education, such as at school, is an example of convergent thinking.

Nelson Mandela often spoke about current primary and secondary education teaching our children what to think rather than how to think. This is also an issue that many businesses are working on especially in this fast-changing environment. Challenging the current reality requires creative ‘out of the box’ thinking.

When we talk about “thinking outside the box”, Shelton and Darling (2001) suggest that our thinking is based on pictures. Thoughts are less limited because it is easier to link random images together without considering logic or making sense. It means that the brain can hold multiple contradicting ideas at the same time and find links between them. This inductive, unconventional, and creative process is about looking for patterns to solve problems or find opportunities in unique ways.

Out of the box” thinking is less structured and comprises of four types of thinking:

Creative thinking is where unorthodox thinking creates new solutions or opportunities. Often this type of thought offers fresh perspectives, leading to improved productivity, engagement, and collaboration. Ritter (2020) suggests that creative thinking reduces stress, promotes risk-taking and encourages life-long learning, the last two being linked to the Da Vincian principles of Sfumato and Curiosita.

Divergent thinking is spontaneous and free-flowing, encouraging exploring and identifying as many possible solutions to a problem as possible. An example of this is brainstorming, where multiple solutions emerge from the process.

Innovative thinking is similar to creative thinking in that it is also free-flowing and challenges current thought or rules. However, innovative thinking is focused on creating unique value. Remember that the definition of innovation is a commercialised process, system, or idea that adds value to others.

Warren Ashley (2017) defines Unstructured thinking as thought that is not stimulated by an external source so is non-directed. An example would be insights generated while thinking in the shower, falling asleep or meditating.

Law of Intentionality

Change is Inevitable – Growth is Intentional

John Maxwell (2019)

However, a problem arises when businesses ask employees to focus on “out of the box” thinking in an attempt to create a competitive advantage. By intentionally thinking “out of the box” employees often ignore logical solutions or opportunities.

Quantum thinking is intentionally thinking without barriers, being comfortable with entertaining opposing thoughts, and using them to develop new insights, opportunities, and solutions. This ‘solutions-focused’ thinking is done by concentrating on where you want to be, compared to where you are now. Dianne Collins (2015) suggests that you need to focus your positive energy on where you want to be rather than where you are.

“Ask how do I get from there to here rather than how do I get from here to there.”

Collins (2015)

Innovative and unique opportunities, which give you a sustainable advantage, require you to neither think in or out of the box. They are both constraining in different ways. Be remarkable by stretching your mind when collecting and connecting your dots. Burn your box and free your thinking.


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Available at: https://medium.com/ssntl/unstructured-thinking-how-to-have-more-better-ideas-da1cd99b99e1
[Accessed 21 June 2019].

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Available at: https://www.britannica.com/
[Accessed 19 January 2020].

Collins, D., 2011. Do You Quantum Think?: New Thinking That Will Rock Your World. 1st ed. New York: SelectBooks, Inc.

Collins, D., 2015. You Can’t Get “There” From “Here”. [Online]
Available at: https://diannecollins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ARTICLE-You-Cant-Get-There-From-Here-by-Dianne-Collins-2015.pdf
[Accessed 21 June 2019].

NLP Notes, 2015. Convergent Thinking. [Online]
Available at: https://nlpnotes.com/2015/03/30/convergent-thinking/
[Accessed 15 October 2019].

Ritter, S. M., 2020. Fostering students’ creative thinking skills by means of a one-year creativity training program. PMC, 15(3).

Rock, D., 2007. Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. New York: HarperCollins.

Rock, D., 2009. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus and working smarter all day long.. 1st ed. New Youk: HarperCollins.

Shelton, C. K. & Darling, J. R., 2001. The quantum skills model in management: a new paradigm to enhance effective leadership. Leadership & Organisational Development Journal, 22(6), pp. 264-273.