5 Ways to “Think Outside The Box”

“I’m sure you can come up with something – think outside the box.” How many times have you heard that? It’s great advice, but what does it mean and how do you actually do it?

When we think about creativity, we often come back to the idea of someone generating world-shattering ideas the likes of which have never been seen. Doyle and Rowell, in their book Jumpstart Your Creativity, define creativity as the “process of creating ideas that have value”.

In reality, not many of us will be delivering cutting-edge projects where nothing like it has ever been done before. In the modern knowledge economy, applying creative thinking is far more likely to be synthesizing large quantities of data and applying it to the organization’s problems.

Today, people who can sift through the output of Big Data warehouse reports or digital information and make connections are highly valued in the business. Blue sky, creative, out-of-the-box thinking doesn’t have to mean coming up with innovative products. Developing innovative ways of working and applying data to problems are also highly creative skills.

So when you and your team are struggling to respond to that request to think outside the box, where can you start? Let’s look at some ways you can boost your creative thinking.

Short-term methods

1: Get outside the box – literally

A quick way to get creative is to leave your normal working environment behind. Meet in a coffee shop or just in a different office building. Get outside: take your meeting into the park or to the beach. A change of scene can help people feel freer and energized and therefore help the creativity flow.

2: Create moments for socializing

Many, many good ideas are thought up around the edges of meetings. Many cultures include socializing as an important part of office life and that’s because it helps build relationships within the team. You never know when making a coffee before a workshop will result in a great connection or spark an idea, so create moments in the working day for a social chat.

3: Ditch the stress

When you are stressed you fall back on what you know. Processes and working on autopilot help you get through times when you are busy or tired. That’s OK some of the time, but when you need to be creative, relying on what you know is the opposite of what you want to achieve!

Ditch the stress and you can approach creative thinking with a clear head.

Longer-term methods

4: Create a supportive environment

None of these short-term ideas will work to their full advantage if the environment for creativity isn’t present in your workplace.

Your team needs to feel appreciated if they are going to open up and fully participate in out-of-the-box thinking. They need to feel that their ideas are taken seriously – nothing kills innovation faster than suggestions being shot down quickly.

A creative environment is one where employees feel as if they are contributing to something meaningful. That could be a small project objective or a large corporate strategy. They need to know they are trusted to both do a good job and to operate within tested boundaries.

In other words, the working environment should be a safe place for positive creativity. This takes time to build, so start today!

5: Coaching

Another longer-term suggestion is to coach your team, making sure they know how to use creativity tools like online mind mapping software and facilitation techniques.

Finally, remember why you are thinking outside of the box. It’s not to come up with the coolest or wackiest idea. The goal is to make a real impact on the company’s bottom line, customer satisfaction, or some other business metric. Innovation is a means to boost your organization’s performance. Keep that in mind, use these ideas, and your team will soon find it easy to think outside the box.

About the authorAuthor Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.