Want a Truly Innovative Organization? Think INSIDE the Box…

Stuck in a rut? Facing a deadline to a particularly vexing problem with no solution in sight? Maybe you just want to mix things up to get some new momentum, but you don’t know where or how to start…

Are you tempted to think outside the box?

A very traditional view of innovation and creativity is that it should be unstructured and not follow any patterns or rules. Leaders everywhere are encouraged to “think outside the box.” The problem facing you should be a launching pad for brainstorming ideas, no matter how wild or far-fetched they are. The theory is that moving as far from your problem will help you come up with a breakthrough idea.

Maybe it’s time to think inside the box instead.

I first heard the term “think inside the box” when I became a part of Elevation Church in Charlotte NC over 4 years ago. Elevation’s core values are expressed in what we call The Code – here’s the definition:

We understand what God has done in and through our church is not normal. The only explanation is God’s hand of favor and mercy over a group of people willing to follow Him faithfully. To help maintain our unity, tone, and trajectory, we developed 12 core values as a church that make us unique. We call it The Code.

One of those values is “We think inside the box.”

The Code 6I’ve seen it demonstrated time and time again – from a choreographed dance step illustrating the battle of Elijah and the prophets of Baal to creative videos for worship to innovative partnerships with local groups who serve our community.

Thinking inside the box is now the norm at Elevation.

For many organizations, though, the concept is unknown. Fortunately, that’s about to change.

Authors Jacob Goldenberg and Drew Boyd recently released their new book, Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. It is the first book to detail their innovation method called Systematic Inventive Thinking – inside the box thinking.

Here’s a quick overview of five techniques Goldenberg and Boyd have discovered after studies of innovation-related phenomena in a variety of contexts.

  • Subtraction: Innovative products and services tend to have had something removed, usually something that was previously thought to be essential to use the product or service. The original Sony Walkman had the recording function subtracted, defying all logic to the idea of a “recorder.” Even Sony’s chairman and inventor of the Walkman, Akio Morita, was surprised by the market’s enthusiastic response.
  • Task Unification: Innovative products and services tend to have had certain tasks brought together and “unified” within one component of the product or service, usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task. Crowdsourcing, for example, leverages large groups of people by tasking them to generate insights or tasks, sometimes without even realizing it.
  • Multiplication: Innovative products and services tend to have had a component copied but changed in some way, usually in a way that initially seemed unnecessary or redundant. Many innovations in cameras, including the basis of photography itself, are based on copying a component and then changing it. For example, a double flash when snapping a photo reduces the likelihood of “red-eye.”
  • Division: Innovative products and services tend to have had a component divided out of the product or service and placed back somewhere into the usage situation, usually in a way that initially seemed unproductive or unworkable. Dividing out the function of a refrigerator drawer and placing it somewhere else in the kitchen creates a cooling drawer.
  • Attribute Dependency: Innovative products and services tend to have had two attributes correlated with each other, usually attributes that previously seemed unrelated. As one attribute changes, another changes. Transition sunglasses, for example, get darker as the outside light gets brighter.

The authors have found that the key to using these five techniques is the starting point. It is an idea called they call “The Closed World.”

We tend to be most surprised with those ideas “right under noses,” that are connected in some way to our current reality or view of the world. This is counterintuitive because most people think you need to get way outside their current domain to be innovative. Methods like brainstorming use random stimulus to push you “outside the box” for new and inventive ideas. Just the opposite is true. The most surprising ideas are right nearby. We have a nickname for The Closed World…we call it Inside the Box.

Are you ready to do some thinking – inside the box?

inspired by Inside the Box, by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg
Inside the Box
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