A Brief History of Thinking Outside The Box

Thinking outside and inside the box has always been with us as human beings. Why does it matter? Decide which you should do, or who should do what.

To get out of the box, let’s first describe it. It’s big and it’s got lots of file folders. It’s comfortable and you work in it. 

If we cast ourselves back 150,000 years, the box’s mental file folders are full of information about how you hunted and gathered food last year.

  • the rock you stood on that gave you a vantage point over a watering hole
  • the glade where you gathered berries and how you got to them before the birds
  • the stone from which you make rocks for digging up that one kind of root

As you can see, the box is a treasure trove of intellectual property passed down from one generation to the next. Why do you want to think outside of it? The truth is, as a tribe, you should think more in the box than out. Some of the tribe, probably most of the tribe, should focus on thinking better inside the box. Nowadays we call this process improvement, best practices, trusted techniques.

But some people just aren’t wired that way. Some people have to try new ways of doing this and I suspect it was always like that. We condescendingly think of our stone age ancestors as unchanging in their ways for 100s of thousands of years until farming was discovered. But outside-the-box paleolithic thinkers were coming up with all kinds of inventive schemes, including running bison off cliffs by observing their group-think lapses in reasoning, or early forms of animal husbandry and agriculture involving controlled burning.

The point is this: thinking inside the box has happened forever and is good; thinking outside the box has also happened forever and is also good.

So which should you do? It depends on your natural proclivities – more on this tomorrow.