Thinking "outside-the-box"

Rumor has it that Charles H. Duell, the U.S. Commissioner of Patents, in 1899 once said “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” and recommended that the U.S. patent office be closed down.  If true, clearly Charles H. Duell had a problem thinking ‘outside-the-box’.

What does it mean to think ‘outside-the-box’?  I am sure each one of you has multiple examples and explanations of what this phrase means.  Here is one example that I encountered recently.  A few days ago, an elementary school teacher gave her students a five-word list each day and asked them to create a sentence for each of those five words.  One little girl found a creative approach to the assignment.  She first thought of a theme and then created sentences for each of those words that fit within that theme. To me, this demonstrated thinking ‘outside-the-box’ – a thought that acted as an outlier to those offered by her classmates.

To me, thinking ‘outside-the-box’ means not getting bogged down within an existing framework but constantly looking to extend the boundaries and in some sense trying to create new boundaries that seemed impossible before.  Any successful person in any industry – be it today or historically – has had the ability to think ‘outside-the-box’ in their field at some point in time.

The high-tech industry has an abundant set of ‘outside-the-box’ examples. One of my favorites is Michael Dell’s approach to the PC industry by focusing on the most efficient delivery mechanism as a way to win the business instead of high-priced research inside the machine. 

Another of my favorite examples is Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to getting independence for India using Non-Violence as a core principle.


Comments (5)

  1. Pawel Pabich says:

    I completly agree but I’m wondering if you can be successful in the IT field without thinking "outside-the-box"?

  2. Somasegar says:

    Success is defined as different things by different people.  I do know that people who are curious, who are willing to push the envelope, who think about new ways to do things that may or may fit the traditional mold have the potential to contribute more.  

    – somasegar

  3. Dirk says:

    🙂 a Microsoft official reproaching a US Patent official of not thinking ‘outside the box’… And I thought I’d seen it all (no pun intended).

    Honestly, I just love it when a fresh perspective on a certain issue makes the world an exciting and often funny place. It ‘s why I love being a developer 🙂

  4. Rama.NET says:

    Extending boundaries — sounds like defination for God. God, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Since you can’t think outside of the box, here in this case God, you basically extend the boundaries by manipulating the attributes you can think of. Nice post.

  5. Ela de! says:

    How come everybody think they have / are  right and everybody are wrong?

    ELA DE!!