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What is the thinking outside the box theory?

Journey through history and trace the roots of the phrase “think outside the box’ back to the “nine-dot” puzzle.

We often hear the phrase “think outside the box’ as a rallying call for innovative thinking, urging us to challenge our assumptions and perceive the world from a fresh perspective. It encourages us to break free from conventional thought patterns and liberate our minds from the shackles of past experiences.


The origins of this phrase lie in a captivating puzzle known as the “nine-dot” challenge. Imagine a three by three square grid composed of nine dots, and the task is to connect all of these dots using no more than four straight lines, without lifting the pen. While the exact age of this puzzle remains uncertain, variations of it can be traced back to American puzzle maker Sam Loyd’s ‘Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks, and Conundrum’s With Answers, published in 1914. Some even speculate that the current version of the game was developed by the British mathematician Henry Dudeney.

However, it was in the 1970s that the nine-dot puzzle gained prominence as a tool for academics to explore human thinking and problem-solving approaches.

American psychologist J.P. Guilford conducted experiments involving this puzzle in the early 1970s, while British leadership expert John Eric Adair claimed he had introduced it in 1969. This captivating challenge began to capture the imagination of many, as it demonstrated the intricate workings of the human mind.

The phrase

Coinciding with the puzzle’s rise to popularity, the phrase “think outside the box’ emerged as a means to describe this innovative mindset. The earliest recorded instance of this phrase, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, dates back to a 1971 article in the journal Data Management. Since then, it has become a widely adopted mantra for those seeking to unlock their creative potential.

So, does thinking outside the box truly facilitate creativity? While it may be an oversimplification to attribute creativity solely to this concept, embracing it can certainly serve as a catalyst for original thinking.

Picture Credit : Google 

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