Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Outside The Box

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 4, 2010

Think outside the box ” originated in America in the late 1960s and is based on the nine dots puzzle.  The concept is that limiting one’s thoughts is like thinking inside a box that can hold a finite number of ideas. 

By reaching outside the box, the assumption is that one will find other — perhaps more exciting — ideas that are not found inside the box.  It is believed that these new ideas from outside the box will invigorate the creation process and bring fresh  meaning to some of the ideas still in the box.  In the end, the final product will look and feel innovative.

Various authors from the world of management consultancy claim to have introduced it. The earliest citation that I have found comes from the weekly magazine of the US aviation industry entitled Aviation Week & Space Technology.  On July 1975 the magazine reported:

We must step back and see if the solutions to our problems lie outside the box.

The concept of thinking outside the box, as mentioned before, comes from the nine dot puzzle.  It appears in Sam Lloyd’s  Cyclopedia of Puzzles published in 1914. 

The nine dot puzzle is an intellectual challenge where one has to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots, all the while never lifting the pencil from the paper.  It’s difficult to achieve and yet achievable however only by thinking outside the box.

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