A Simple Strategy for Thinking Outside the Box
Thinking outside the box is often the key to success in personal and professional life. It allows you to come up with new and innovative ideas, and makes you more open-minded to new ideas and perspectives.
Sometimes, thinking outside the box is simply breaking away from the usual way of doing things and looking at things in a new way.
When my son was in elementary school, he was careless. No matter how many times I reminded him, he kept losing things. One summer, he had to travel with his boys’ chorus to another city for a choral festival. I worried he could keep track of his belongings. After careful consideration, I came up with a unique packing system to solve the problem.
I rolled up my son’s change clothes for each day into a bundle and secured it with a rubber band. Then I labeled each bundle with Day One, Day Two, etc.
I told my son when he opened a new bundle, he must roll up his dirty clothes from the previous day and secure them with a rubber band. This way, he wouldn’t lose any clothes during the trip. And it worked! Upon return, my son told me he was always the first to get dressed in the morning because of the bundle system.
Sometimes, you need to put yourself in a free-thinking mindset for innovative ideas to come. My favorite process is reverse engineering. Start from your desired outcome and work backward to where you are right now. If you run into a roadblock, put in a question mark placeholder, and continue the process.
Once you complete the entire process, revisit your question marks. Ask these questions for each question mark:
1. Is this missing step necessary to achieve my desired outcome?
If the answer is no, move on to the next question.
If the answer is yes, ask yourself:
Can I substitute this missing step with something else?
Can I find someone to help me with this missing step?
2. What is the best way to complete this step?
- Can I trade/hire/enlist help?
- How to minimize risks with this step?
Here’s how I reverse-engineered a solution to my problem.
When my book, The Art of Good Enough, came out in early 2020, I had a hard time finding famous authors to write blurbs for the back cover of my book.
End Goal: I need three blurbs on the back cover of my book.
Intermediate Goal: get famous authors to consider writing a blurb for my book.
Current Situation: I don’t know any famous authors. Those I contacted via email didn’t respond.
Question Mark: How do I get these famous authors’ attention?
There are two ways to approach this issue:
I can ask around and find someone who knows these authors personally. This approach can be time-consuming and inefficient.
I can travel to places where these famous authors hang out and introduce myself. I risk being perceived as annoying with this approach, which is counterproductive to my goal.
How should I approach these authors without causing their negative feelings toward me?
The answer is going to these authors’ book signing events. By buying their book, I show them my loyalty and support, and have a legitimate reason to speak to them.
If I bring my book to the signing and ask them to consider writing me a blurb, the worst-case scenario is they say no. Guess what happened when I tried this approach? A National Book Award finalist author wrote me a raving blurb after reading my book. Yay!
Next time you find yourself stuck in a rut, try this method to think outside the box – you may be surprised at what you come up with!