A quick and easy way to think outside the box*

We think in boxes, not only as individuals but as a group or team.

This box is made up of our past experiences, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, group norms and conventions. Over time our thinking box becomes the default way we think. It’s habitual.

But why?

The short answer is that it is efficient. We tend to repeat thinking patterns that have worked before. It not only saves us time and energy, but familiar ways of thinking are less stressful and (we feel) involve less risk.

There is a big but however.

Whilst our thinking box is predictable, safe and comfortable it is not very creative as we are repeating and reinforcing our existing patterns.

So, if we come across a new situation and/or we are looking for a novel idea then we can struggle.

In these circumstances we need to change our thinking. We can wait for an aha moment in the shower or a chance, random comment to inspire the group or team.

Or we can proactively switch our thinking.

A switch is a simple, easy way to escape our past thinking patterns and explore new ones.

Through trial and error with literally 1000’s of managers and leaders over 20 years I have discovered 6 switches. There may of course be more but I know these 6 work.

The 6 switches are:

  • Switch the Problem
  • Switch Perspective
  • Switch the Outcome
  • Switch the Focus
  • Switch the Questions and
  • Switch the Rules

Notice that these switches are not numbered in any way. This is because it does not matter which one you start with or how many you use. The goal is to unlock your mind and by doing so you can generate new and different possibilities.

For example, consider the question, how could you make golf more engaging to kids? You could switch to a different perspective let’s say a clown and suddenly ideas like playing music, having coloured fairways or big golf like juggling balls start to emerge.

Or you could use another switch – say focus. Let’s focus on the golf clubs. If you are a kid (note the switch in perspective), golf clubs are boring. But a bright yellow driver or clubs with your favourite super hero characters on them might appeal to you more.

Now try and connect some raw ideas to develop a bigger, better idea or solution. What about a golf bag which is designed for your phone with AirPods where you can play music why you play or practice. I call this the switch and connect process.

Thinking outside of your box is a learned skill and over time can become automatic. So in a conversation with a colleague if they are stuck you can quickly suggest a few switches to help them get unstuck. For example, I understand your business problem but what is the customer problem? (i.e. switch the problem). Or rather than asking an expert question, what’s a question a first-time user might ask?  (i.e. switch the question). Or what’s a key assumption that you have made? Can you stretch or overturn this? (i.e. switch the rules).

Learning how to change your and others thinking in a volatile, fast-moving environment is a key future skill. Using the 6 Switches tool kit makes this experience more emerging and productive. Soon everyone in your group or team can become an out of the box thinker.

*This article by Dr Ken Hudson first appeared in IdeasSpies.


Check out the 6 Switches Canvas. It’s simple, practical and free.