Today’s energetic quest for creative innovation often rests on the familiar “Think out of the box” paradigm. But, paradoxically, the reality is that attempts to employ “out of the box” approaches to help identify breakthrough innovations all too often deliver lackluster results.

Two articles in Psychology Today illuminate the inherent limitations of “thinking outside the box” and clearly show why it often can actually block the route to wider and deeper insights to creative innovation.

In the more recent of the two articles, Drew Boyd, professor of marketing and innovations, University of Cincinnati, refers to a 1970s experiment conducted by psychologist J.P. Guilford. This was one of the first studies on creativity.  It required subjects to connect the dots in the now famous nine-dot puzzle without lifting their pencils from the page. The solution requires going outside the nine-dot boundary box…which led to the handle “thinking outside the box”.

Several years later, other research teams utilized a different approach to solving the nine-dot problem. Half of the subjects were asked to solve the connect-the-dots problem as Drew Boyd had done. But the other half were explicitly told the “trick” to the solution. Surprisingly, they were no more successful than the control group! The researchers concluded that the theoretical link between thinking outside the box and creativity was in fact non-existent.

The second article, Open Creativity, authored by V. Krishna Kumar, a professor of psychology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, points to a far better approach to creative problem solving. Kumar refers to the “Broadcast Search” problem solving approach developed by other investigators. This broadcast search approach is based on making the problem information available to a people from diversified fields. Results from these efforts have increased problem solution dramatically. And here’s the key driver of success:

The more removed the problem was from the solver’s area of expertise, the greater the odds that the problem was solved.

The success of our RTi IngenuitySM solution to innovation is firmly based on the realization that a wide diversity of “solvers” is crucial to successful creative exploration. We understand that innovation will be more successful if the effort utilizes highly intelligent thinkers from a diversity of backgrounds, modes of thought, and experience. We avoid relying on a nucleus of potential solvers drawn from organization-limited teams as this tends to inhibit insights beyond the “box”.