Thursday, March 29, 2007

What exactly is this box?!

When innovators talk about thinking outside the box,
they mean coming up with creative ways to solve
problems - new ways to look at things. How do they
do it? How can you do it too? We first have to ask what
the "box" is. Then we can look at how to get outside of it.

The box is anything that limits your mind from soaring
– traditions, norms, self imposed barricades like low
self-esteem, inferiority…the list goes on. But the fact that
a human like you has done something is more than enough
proof that you can do something too.

The "box" is the normal way of doing things and looking at
things. It is the assumptions that almost everyone involved
is making. The best way to start thinking out of the box then,
is to identify and challenge all the assumptions that make up
thinking inside the box.

One of the major liquor brands was faltering years ago, and
they couldn't seem to boost their sales. Promotions, lowering
the price, getting better shelf placement - these were the "in
the box" solutions. Then someone challenged the assumptions,
by asking "What if we stopped the promotions and just raised
the price?"

The price was raised as an experiment, and sales soon doubled.
As it turns out, some types of liquor are bought quite often as
gifts. Buyers don't want to buy the most expensive one, but they
also don't want to seem cheap, so they won't buy products that
don't cost enough. Now imagine what happens to your profit
margins when you raise the price and double the sales. That's
the power of thinking outside of the box.

Some more ways to get outside the Box

Challenging assumptions is a powerful creative problem solving
technique. The difficult part is to identify the assumptions. If you
are designing a new motorcycle, write down assumptions like
"speed matters," "it has to run on gas" and "it needs two wheels,"
not because you expect to prove these wrong, but because
challenging these can lead to creative possibilities. Maybe the
time has come for an electric three-wheeled motorcycle.

Another way to get to creative solutions is to "assume the absurd."
This is either fun or annoying, depending on how open-minded
you can be. All you do is start making absurd assumptions, then
finding ways to make sense of them. The easiest way to do it is by
asking "what if."

What if a carpet cleaning business was better off with half as
many customers? It seems absurd, but work with it.
Hmm...less stressful,perhaps. More profitable if each customer
was worth three times as much. Is that possible? Commercial jobs
that involve large easy-to-clean spaces make more money in a
day than houses, with fewer headaches. Focusing ongetting those
accounts could be the most profitable way to go - not so absurd.

Another way to more innovative ideas is to literally do your thinking
out of the box. Get out of the house or the office. Look around at
how others are doing things. On buses in Ecuador, salesmen put a
product into everyones hands and let them hold it while they do a
sales pitch. Then you have to give back "your" product or pay for it.
It is very effective. How could you use the principle in your business?

Thanks to Steve Gillman for some of his thoughts. 
He is one of my role models in this thinking thing.

Quote of the post
"Dare to think differently" - Segun Adedokun

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