Day #179 – The Problem With the Box

A bit of a continuation from yesterday.

We treasure outside of the box, creative thinking.  It’s from where great inventions arise, it’s from where great problems are solved; new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things.

My question, is our focus on outside of the box thinkers diminishing the perceived necessity for inside the box thinkers?

To truly think outside the box – don’t we first have to understand what is in the box?  It seems that is where Tucker gets stuck – inside the box.  Maybe he’s not stuck at all though?  Maybe that’s just where he excels?

The box is in essence, a frame, or a traditional way of thinking about a problem.  Before we develop a radically new or interesting way of doing something, we must first come to understand the existing problem.   If we try to get out of the box before we thoroughly understand the problem, don’t we do ourselves a disservice?  I think of products released before they are fully developed.

Think about all of the mP3 players that were released before the iPod.  What happened to those?  I have two in my drawer that I never use.  Why?  I wold guess because the problems weren’t all worked out before someone went outside of the box to create the music player.

Maybe the iPod is more successful because creators spent more time inside the box solving potential problems before they went outside the box to develop the actual product.

When I began doing some extra reading and researching this ‘box’ issue I was moved by this quote, “You need to think inside the box – recognizing the rules, the realities, the details and the constraints that define your situation and what success is – in order to deliver innovation and useful creativity. And, generally, the more constraints, the better.” (

The author of this article, Michael Baer, puts forth five general ideas for why the box is important.

  1. The box must be defined. The first step in creating something new is knowing everything about the old.  The box exists for a reason and there most certainly is something that works, which is why the box exists.  In fact, most old ideas tend to be successful.  My husband would equate this to beer. If PBR has been around since 1844, they have to be doing something right.
  2. Creativity demands the constraints of the box. Out of the box thinking cannot occur unless the existing box is in darn good shape!  The box defines the problem, the realties, and the needs. Getting the details will help direct thinking and creativity.  When I ask my children what they want for supper and they say nothing – it’s difficult to decide what to begin making.  If they say, “Something with noodles.”  The problem is MUCH easier to solve!
  3. Nearly all breakthrough innovations evolve from existing ideas (inside the box). Truly new, groundbreaking ideas are rare.  Instead they often come from a sliver of something that already exists.  We more often build on other ideas.  These ideas are built upon ideas already in the box. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”
  4. Old or existing ideas aren’t intrinsically dumb, outdated, and in need of being thought outside of. Just because ideas are old doesn’t make them worthless.  Again, in order to create something new…we have to understand the old.
  5. Creativity needs to be useful. It needs to be useful, no matter how creative it is – we have to be able to use it.  Again, to understand something’s use – we have to understand where is came from and where it’s heading…a combination of inside and outside of the box.

Neither is more important than the other, both are a necessity for success.  It reminds me of this picture –  if you look closely you’ll see Tucker inside the ‘box’ and his sister outside.  It’s also how they currently exist as thinkers.


Yesterday I wrote about how I generally force students to be outside of the box.  This is me, saying I am wrong.  Tucker cannot be forced to be outside of the box.  It just doesn’t now, and possibly will never make sense to him.

If this is true…I am sure I have students who are the same.

Sometimes we don’t need change.  Some things are not broken.

He’s not broken – neither is his style of thinking.

For him, the ‘old math’ was never broken – and we need to return to it – so he’s able to make sense of that box. If you want someone to examine the inside of the box – to know everything and anything there is to know about the inside of the box?  He’s your guy…

Once he does that – maybe, just maybe he’ll be able to think more outside of the box.

And..maybe not.

5 thoughts on “Day #179 – The Problem With the Box

  1. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

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