How to think outside the box

You often hear the expression think outside the box.

This is a useful metaphor but it does not suggest how to do think in a different, more creative way.

It is for this reason that I have developed what I call ‘Box and Ball Mode Thinking’.

The good news is that these are modes not types of people and you can switch back and forth depending on the need or problem.

Both Box and Ball Mode of thinking can also be used when you are interacting with ChatGPT for example.

Box Mode:

Box Mode is your usual, default and habitual way of thinking.

It is based on what has worked in the past.

This mode of thinking is a highly efficient and like a Box is comfortable, structured and feels safe.

For example, what are some ideas that can improve your performance by 1%.

These Box Mode ideas are proven, effective and valuable.


They can be predictable and can be copied.

Customers, clients and employees can become bored with Box like ideas.

The Box Mode has a proven structure and linear path but that is also it’s weakness.

You can get trapped in a box.

You can get trapped in your habitual way of thinking.

To escape this mode you need:

Ball Mode:

Ball Mode by comparison is a playful, fun, exploratory mode of thinking.

And like a ball can be stretched, bounced and thrown around.

It can help you think differently – on demand!

With Ball Mode you can think outside the box.

For example, what are some ideas that can make a difference to your performance by 100%.

With this example you cannot think in the usual way.

You have to think differently.

You are in Ball Mode.


To step out of the box into ball mode is to generate ideas that are uncertain, unproven and hence involve risk.

This can be challenging for leaders (and sometimes customers) who are being asked to move out of their comfort zone.

Switching and Connecting Box and Ball Modes

So each mode of thinking has strengths and weaknesses.

The way forward is to switch between the modes and connect the efficiency of Box Mode ideas with the freshness of the Ball ideas.

This is captured in my Switch Thinking Process:

Step 1. Start (by generating Box ideas)

Step 2. Switch (to Ball mode using any of the 6 Switches or Prompts).

Step 3: Connect (try and connect the Box and Ball ideas to develop a bigger, better solution).

It’s always worth trying to connect your box and ball ideas.

Even if on the surface they are far apart.

For example,

What is a 1% improvement to the customer experience that we can test in the next 30 days that could make a 100% difference within 12 months?

Using both Box and Ball Modes is a much more productive way to think outside the box.

The goal is imagination grounded in reality.


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