Where’s the box?

Two of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Ok, if we aren’t supposed to do the same thing when we run into a problem, what are we supposed to do?  The current cliche is that we are supposed to “think outside the box” — but where’s the box?  After some intense research, I found this in Wikipedia:

The origins of the phrase “thinking outside the box” are obscure; but it was popularized in part because of a nine-dot puzzle, which John Adair claims to have introduced in 1969. Management consultant Mike Vance has claimed that the use of the nine-dot puzzle in consultancy circles stems from the corporate culture of the Walt Disney Company, where the puzzle was used in-house.

The puzzle proposed an intellectual challenge—to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots, and never lifting the pencil from the paper. The conundrum is easily resolved, but only by drawing the lines outside the confines of the square area defined by the nine dots themselves. The phrase “thinking outside the box” is a restatement of the solution strategy. The puzzle only seems difficult because people commonly imagine a boundary around the edge of the dot array.

So that’s where the box came from!

This is an example of how we limit ourselves through self-imposed constraints … reducing our capabilities because of assumptions that we make about what we are allowed to do. We put ourselves into a box of our own making!  We need to do more than think outside the box — we need to get out of the box and start finding out what we’re really capable of!


  1. Jessica

    (I tried to post this comment the day you posted this, but I don’t think it went through…)

    So THIS is why you always encourage your Awana kids to think about the rules not as limits but as obstacles on the path to the best way to win — and potentially leverage to win faster, depending on the rule. Promoting problem-solving in teens, huzzah! 😉

    1. Ed Williams

      Yes … but I try to characterize rules as tools, not obstacles” — “how can I use this rule to get the job done?”

      I try to teach them to avoid constraining themselves by adding rules of their own … thus the “if I didn’t say anything about it, it’s not illegal” paradigm that we operate under most of the time.


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