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How to think Outside The Box

How to think Outside The Box
“I will bet you $1” said Fred, “that if you give me $2, I will give you $3 in return.”
Tom agreed and gave Fred $2. How much money did Tom win?
It seems that Fred will give Tom $3 dollars at which point Tom will lose the bet and will have to give $1 back. Overall Tom wins nothing. However, there may be more to this puzzle than meets the eye. The true purpose of the bet may not be immediately apparent, and there may be hidden motives at play.
Most people assume that as Fred made the bet, he will follow on it. Actually, if Fred loses the bet he wins $1 and Tom loses $1.
Thinking outside the box is an idiom that refers to thinking in a creative and innovative way, often by looking at a problem from a different perspective. It is a metaphor for approaching problems and situations with an open mind and thinking unconventionally. In this article, we'll explore some tips, techniques, and funny examples to help you break free from conventional thinking and approach problems in new and innovative ways. Let’s get started!

The 9 Dots Puzzle

The 9 dots puzzle is a classic problem that has been used to encourage people to think outside the box. The puzzle consists of three rows of three dots, and the goal is to connect all nine dots using only four straight lines without lifting the pencil from the paper or retracing any lines.
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Most people's first instinct is to stay within the boundaries of the square shape, but the solution requires going beyond the boundaries of the box, that’s where does the phrase "think outside the box" come from.
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The 9 dots puzzle is a great example of how thinking outside the box can lead to creative solutions. By challenging yourself to look beyond the obvious, you can develop new ways of thinking that can help you solve problems more effectively.

Why it's difficult to think outside the box

One of the main reasons is that we often have preconceived notions or assumptions about how things should be done, which can limit our creativity and prevent us from exploring new ideas. Additionally, our brains are wired to take shortcuts and rely on familiar patterns, which can make it difficult to break free from conventional thinking.

Another reason why it’s difficult to think outside the box is that we may be afraid of failure or rejection. When we try something new or different, there’s always a risk that it won’t work out, which can be scary. However, it’s important to remember that failure is a natural part of the learning process, and that we can often learn more from our failures than from our successes.

How to start thinking outside the box:

1- Simplify it

When confronted with a problem that seems too intricate for a child to grasp, take the time to simplify its explanation. Richard Feynman, a renowned Nobel laureate in physics, famously asserted, "If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't really understand it." The very act of distilling complex concepts into comprehensible terms often sparks innovative solutions.

3- Re-conceptualize the problem

Creativity often blossoms when we approach a problem or project from a new angle. This shift in perspective opens doors to unexplored solutions that might have otherwise remained hidden. Fortunately, there are practical techniques to help us reframe our thinking:

* Flip the Problem:
This approach can be applied literally or figuratively. For instance, inverting a picture can simplify the drawing process by forcing our brains to focus on individual elements rather than preconceived notions. Similarly, we can apply this concept to conceptual challenges:
For example, if you're writing a book and you can't figure out how to get the protagonist to a certain spot in the story, ask yourself "does this character actually need to be the protagonist? how would the story work with a different character as protagonist? or more than one character?").
* Reverse Engineering Solutions:
Sometimes, the key lies in starting with the desired outcome and working backward.
For example: say you work in the advertising position at a newspaper. The paper is losing money because it hasn't been getting enough ads. Start from the final, best outcome (having lots of the right kind of ads). Work backwards by contacting the types of businesses and groups that can provide the best, most cost-effective ads.

2- Change your space.

Escape the Norm, Unleash Creativity
To ignite your creative spark, break free from the monotony of daily routines. Successful thinkers often emphasize the power of change. Carve out specific time for creativity, either through structured rituals or simple breaks.
Seek Inspiration in the Unexpected
* Tap into the creativity-boosting magic of showers:
Many groundbreaking ideas have emerged from those steamy moments. Keep a pen and paper handy to capture those fleeting sparks.
* Embark on a Creative Stroll:
Walking, like showering, awakens the creative spirit. Take a pre-project stroll to stimulate ideas or incorporate walking into your creative process. Steve Jobs famously held walking meetings to brainstorm. Tchaikovsky's creative journey often began with walks around his village.
* Create a Creative Space:
Establish a distinct separation between your routine and your creative time. Author Toni Morrison attributed her writing prowess to her sunrise ritual. Find a ritual or routine that sets the stage for your creative flow.

4- Ask why

Most of the pushback we get—whether from management, colleagues, or our own brains—comes with a simple phrase: “That’s how we’ve always done it.” We’re hardwired to resist change, especially when what we’ve been doing has been working okay, if not spectacularly. When the routine is the roadblock, “why” is the battering ram. Asking “But why have we always done it that way?” can reveal flaws and make way for creativity.

5- Flex your brain muscles.

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Psychology Today recommends a few exercises to help you think outside the box. Here are three of them:

* Alphabetize letters in words:
Take any word (one you’re reading, or just thinking) and alphabetize the letters. For example, the word B-R-A-I-N would become A-B-I-N-R. This exercise forces you to use all the information—all the letters—and totally rearrange it in your mind. Try this for five minutes a day, three days a week. Increase the amount of letters in the words you are alphabetizing as you get more proficient.

* Lose the letter E:
Challenge your friends to use words in conversation that don’t have the letter E (the most oft-used vowel in the English language) in them. This exercise is great work that will get you thinking in new directions.

* Add a series of one-digit numbers in your head . . . fast:
Quick! What’s 8+6+9+3+2+4+7? This exercise helps you to think quickly and improves your mental arithmetic skills.

Give these exercises a try and see how they work for you!

6- Join classes on new subjects

If you’ve been working in a particular field for a long time, you may find yourself thinking in a particular way in all situations of a similar type. To break out of this pattern, Psychology Today suggests enrolling in a class that is on a completely different topic from your daily line of work or expertise. This can help you gain new perspectives on the things that you already know. You may consider joining hobby classes like music or arts, which can help you train your brain in a more non-traditional and informal way of thinking. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

7- Draw something

Drawing a picture that comes to your mind when thinking of a problem is a simple way to train and explore a conventionally unexplored part of your brain. This exercise may help you train your brain to think creatively. It is important that you do not think of right or wrong solutions when doing this and just draw whatever comes to your mind while thinking of the problem. Give it a try and see how it works for you!

Funny examples of thinking outside the box:

1. Other Nine Dots

There is another puzzle with the same nine-dots setup.
What is the smallest number of squares needed to make sure that each dot is in its own region?
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Usually people who try to solve this puzzle come up with the following solution with four squares.
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As with the previous puzzle they imagine the dots are on a grid and try to build squares that have sides parallel to the grid lines. What is the outside-the-box idea? The sides of squares do not need to be parallel to the grid. This way we can find a solution with three squares.
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2. The Ancient Outside-the-Box Puzzle

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The following problem can be found in eighth-century writings.
A man has to take a wolf, a goat, and some cabbage across a river. His rowboat has enough room for the man plus either the wolf or the goat or the cabbage. If he takes the cabbage with him, the wolf will eat the goat. If he takes the wolf, the goat will eat the cabbage. Only when the man is present are the goat and the cabbage safe from their enemies. All the same, the man carries wolf, goat, and cabbage across the river. How?
The reason the puzzle has survived for so many years is that the solution is based on an outside-the-box idea.
Trip 1: Move the goat to the other side and back.
Trip 2: Move the wolf and bring the goat back.
Trip 3: Move the cabbage and back.
Trip 4: Move the goat.

3. Move a Digit

In the equation 30 - 33 = 3 move one digit to make it correct.

The puzzle seems impossible.
But the outside-the-box idea is to move a digit up to the exponent: : 30 – 3 3 = 3.

4. Cigarette Butts

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A certain hobo who is skilled at making cigarettes can turn any 4 cigarette butts into a single cigarette. Today, this hobo has found 24 cigarette butts on the street. Assuming he smokes every cigarette he can, how many cigarettes will he smoke today?
On the surface, he can smoke 24/4 = 6 cigarettes. What is the outside-the-box idea? He can reuse his own butts. After smoking 6 cigarettes, he will have 6 butts left. He can make one more cigarette. The answer is 7.
Or is it? What I love about this puzzle is that it has two layers. After smoking 7 cigarettes the hobo will have 3 butts left. There is another outside-the-box idea here. He can borrow a butt from a friend, smoke a cigarette and return the butt. At the end he can smoke 8 cigarettes.

For more examples of out-of-the-box thinking read also Thinking Outside The Box: Examples
Our IQ Test may help you assess your ‘outside the box thinking’

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