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"Thinking In New Boxes" by Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny is a good title for anyone wanting to improve their creativity in a business setting. While focusing on business, the suggestions may be applied to other areas of your life. Indeed, with a global economy, the business that thinks and acts creatively stands a better chance of surviving. The authors suggest a five-step plan for the creative process:
1. Doubt Everything
2. Probe the Possible
5. Reevaluate Relentlessly
The book is around 300 pages and covers such points as:
1. Any idea, no matter how brilliant, will eventually need to be replaced.
2. Deductive vs. inductive thinking.
3. Creativity is possible when you are humble about your existing approach to thinking about things.
4. Three essential tasks for opening your mind for creativity.
5. The best way to find solutions is to generate a range of possibilities and test them instead of just trying to confirm your first hypothesis.
6. Most of our "aha" moments come when we soak in as much information as possible instead of depending on "pie in the sky" notions.
7. Using divergence (overcoming discomfort) to stretch yourself and see new perspectives.
8. Using convergence to prioritize decisions to work on the best ideas yo have developed.
9. Suggestions for getting insights from your customers that can help your business.
10. Be sure to consistently evaluate how your way of thinking helps you or may hold you back.
11. Examples of businesses using creativity.
The authors, well-educated and possessing several years of business experience, thankfully write in an engaging and easily understandable style.
Good read for anyone needing suggestions or ways of looking at things in a business setting (although it could be used in other areas of life also).
Key Impressionistic takes from the book
of Luc De Brabandere & Alan Iny
“Thinking in New Boxes“
About the Authors
Luc de Brabandere is a fellow and a Senior Advisor in the Paris
office of The Boston Consulting Group. He leads strategic seminars
with boards, senior executives, and managers from a wide range of
companies looking to develop new visions, new products and
services, and long-term scenarios to prepare for the future. He is
the author or co-author of nine books, including The Forgotten Half
of Change: Achieving Greater Creativity Through Changes in
Perception, and a regular columnist for various newspapers in
France and Belgium. Prior to joining BCG, he was the general
manager of the Brussels Stock Exchange
Alan Iny is the senior specialist for creativity and scenarios at The
Boston Consulting Group. He has trained thousands of executives
and BCG consultants, runs a wide range of workshops across
industries, and speaks around the world about coming up with
product, service, and other ideas, developing a new strategic
vision, and thinking creatively about the future. Before joining BCG
in 2003, he earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and
an honors BSc from McGill University in mathematics and
management. Iny lives in New York with his wife and daughter.
In a rapidly changing world, you can either drive change or become a victim of
it, depending on how good you are at harnessing your own and others’
creativity. Those who can do it well end up changing their industries—or even
the world. Those who can’t end up being overtaken by other people’s creative
What’s the number one block to creativity? People’s tendency to get stuck in
outdated beliefs and assumptions—what we call mental “boxes.” Getting stuck
in an outdated mental box is easy because it’s comfortable; it lulls you into a
false sense of confidence, believing that what has worked in the past will
continue to work in the future. But it won’t, because change is inevitable.
The goal of this book is to help you break those patterns, and in the process
challenge everything you think you know—about creativity, about your
organization, maybe even about yourself.
What assumptions do you have that you’re not even aware of?
How might those hidden beliefs be holding you back?
How can you break free to discover entirely new ways of seeing the world
and take advantage of the opportunities you might find?
Happy Reading …
The human brain needs frames of reference, or sets of mental
assumptions, to make sense of the world.
It’s how cognitive functions work. Sometimes these frames of reference are
known as paradigms or mindsets.
Humans literally cannot think without these “boxes.” Boxes help people
conceptualize and understand the world, assign meaning, reduce
uncertainty, and take action.
But outdated beliefs can prevent people from seeing and adapting to
change or, more important, seeing opportunities to create change.
Blockbuster was stuck in a mental box that defined the company’s
business model in terms of retail stores.
Blockbuster’s leaders could not see the market shifting and passing
them by as Netflix created a new box that replaced “retail” with
“subscription” and “store” with, first, “online streaming” and then
What is a box?
Why are new boxes needed for breakthrough thinking
Individuals cannot get outside of mental
boxes completely—the idea itself is
The conventional notion of Business
Creativity, “Thinking outside the box,” is a
misnomer because once people step
outside of an old box, they are
automatically thrust into a new one.
The brain must create a new one in order
to keep thinking, perceiving, and ordering
the surrounding world.
Thinking outside the box gets people out
of their comfort zone, but it gives no
inkling about how to redefine beliefs to
create new boxes or about which new
boxes to pick out of an infinite range of
There is a systematic process for doing so, according to
Thinking in New Boxes outlines exercises that deliberately
challenge and dismantle preconceptions; encourage views
that may be unconventional, unpopular, unattractive, or
even seemingly misguided; lead people to imagine radical
and unlikely scenarios and how they may impact the
organization; and force people to intentionally make large
leaps away from past practices and beliefs.
How can leaders & their companies create & choose new boxes
The ability to survive in a world of accelerating
change & challenge calls for ever greater creativity
in our thinking.
But to become more creative, we need to
understand how our minds work.
Once we do, we will recognize that we must do
more than simply “think outside the box,” as the
traditional business manuals suggest.
We need to “think in new boxes.” In this way,
business leaders can marshal their companies’
creativity and give them a real competitive
Creativity in Thinking
We Cannot think without models
We constantly simplify things in order to make sense
of the world around us.
How many colors are there in a rainbow? You will probably
say seven. But why seven, when there are actually
thousands? The fact is that thousands is not a manageable
figure—so we are forced to simplify, & seven is what we
have been taught
We Cannot think without models
How many columns are at the front of the
Parthenon? You are probably hesitating and might
say anywhere from five to ten. Actually, there are
eight. But to have an image of the Parthenon in your
mind’s eye requires only that you have a general
grasp of the details
We Cannot think without models
How many grains of sand does it take to make a
pile? More than a few, obviously. But there is no
exact answer because a pile is, by definition, an
approximation: we do not need to know the precise
What is In front of us
The Society we live in..
..Our company, Our
products, Our competitors..
..Our customers & their
What is Within us
5 Steps to Practical Creativity
Doubt- All our ideas are only working hypotheses
Explore- All our ideas come from the World
Diverge- The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas
Converge- Any idea must be frozen, at least for a time
Re-evaluate- No idea is good forever
“Each step in this five-step framework builds upon on an understanding of how the
human mind actually thinks & reasons. For each step, there are tools and techniques
that will move you closer to finding a radical freedom from preexisting beliefs,
discover original ways of looking at the world, and then modify those mental models
in interesting ways.
Doubt Your most fundamental beliefs, Your perceptions of reality &
your assumptions about the future.
Doubt the rules you are living by , and the ones governing your
Doubt that your extant tactics, models & strategies are the best ones.
Overall doubt that the way you have been going about getting
everything done will continue to serve you well over the long run.
This step will encourage you to adopt a whole new mindset.
Creativity is possible only when you are humble about your existing
approaches to thinking about things.
We have seen that all of our ideas are hypotheses, arrived at through
Why should we always doubt these ideas ?
Because we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we
The key is to Challenge your current Perspective
Don’t always trust your instinct, what we “ know” is not
always what we see
Don’t always trust your “ common sense” , your instinct
In perceived limitations
What do you see here
All of us say it is Former
President George Bush
But you turn it around see the picture ?
Somebody has photo shopped the mouth & the eyes so that
it is deformed image of the former President
But the brain is lazy
Even when we know it is photo shopped
The brain goes to the simplest solution
First, explore how to doubt everything you think you know, and
remember that all your ideas, even the most successful, are
hypotheses within you - and not set in stone.
Challenge the boxes that determine how you perceive the
world, and think creatively about how you're defining the
specific problems you're hoping to solve.
There are a variety of approaches to help you understand how
the ways you've been pre-wired may be curtailing your ability to
develop new perceptions.
Rediscover inductive thinking and understand the need to step
outside your narrow cognitive comfort zone and take risks.
Contemplate provocative ways to frame the primary question or
issue you're hoping to explore.
Doubt Everything- What you need to apply is
Probe the possible
The Idea of exploring is to recognize that all of these ideas do originate in
terms of what we get from the World
It is quite useful for your creative process to gather a set of inputs, and
these can take the form of , you know , the trends in your industry- the
customer research, competitive intelligence, network analysis etc.
Reexamine the World in front of you with vigor, diligence & refreshed
Use prospective thinking “ Prospective thinking means taking a more
expansive, long-term view things, staying open to all sorts of possibilities,
and doing your best to stay fully aware of what is happening both within
& outside your organization or your immediate environment
Explore the Options around you
Reexamine the world in front of you with vigor,
diligence, and refreshed self-awareness.
Ponder the questions or issues you began to
formulate and refine during Step I.
Identify the essential changes you and your
organization believe are most likely to shape not
only your firm but also your entire field and beyond,
over the next several years.
Analyze the world not so that you can determine
the right answers, but rather so that you can ask
the right questions.
Probe the possible- What you need to apply is
Divergence brings you to the start of the creative process
It is driven & powered by your investigation.
The process should be guided by a noticeably structured inquiry for
which you’re trying to generate answers in the light of your
People often fail by jumping straight into this as a first step.
You need to doubt & see the sights first, so you can harvest more
The book tells the story of Hindustan Lever Limited executives in the
1970s and ’80s who assumed that customers for laundry detergent
in India were primarily wealthy individuals willing to pay for Surf.
What they didn’t notice was Nirma, a low-cost competitor, which
appealed to an increasing segment of lower-income customers who
hadn’t used detergent before.
The company learned from that lesson, as evidenced by Surf’s
phenomenal launch and sustained success in the Philippine market.
Generate many new and exciting ideas, even if they seem absurd
The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot
of ideas. Divergence calls upon you to create
many new models, concepts, hypotheses, and
ways of thinking.
It entails a freeing up of the mind and spirit so that
even what may seem like foolish or ill-advised
boxes are not rejected - yet.
Divergence- What you need to apply is
Convergence is the phase where you analyze the ideas gathered in the
Prioritize the ones put on the table, take a good, hard look at them &
select the most useful for your purpose.
In the selection process, understand how consumers think, knowing that
they have a natural bias toward ideas and concepts that corroborate, as
opposed to those that cancel out what they already hold dear.
Such biases can interfere with their capacity for fresh thinking.
The book shares the classic case of Henry Ford, who notably insisted
that the all-black Model T would always remain desirable to consumers.
Even as other car manufacturers built new car models & colors, even
when his colleagues urged him to consider pursuing new directions,
Ford refused to budge. “After years of fantastic innovations that helped
bring the automobile to the masses, Ford fell prey to the ‘anchoring bias’
that leads people to make, or fail to make, new decisions by referencing
their prior experience.”
Evaluate and select the ideas that will drive breakthrough results
Switch from the open-minded delight of divergence
to the more analytical (and familiar) process of
testing your ideas to see which ones you want to
move forward with.
Convergence is where your ideas transform from a
long list into a more select group, and then
eventually down to a still smaller number (or even
just one idea) that can be implemented to achieve
Convergence - What you need to apply is
No good idea remains good forever.
“To be successful, it is imperative to create one new box after
another, embracing change, and knowing when it’s time to
discard one box and replace it with another.”
As the world changes, we will need to change. We will need
It is a question of do we proactively foster doubt & challenge
our perspectives & try to come up with the next big thing, or do
we wait for someone else to do it .
If we wait for someone else, we will be only catching up
No idea is a good idea forever. And did we mention Reevaluate? Relentlessly.
In a world of perpetual change, no idea remains
Stay on top of your boxes to determine when it is
time to discard old ones and develop new ones. A
fundamental requirement in this step is agility, a
penchant for taking thoughtful risks and learning
from examined failure.”
Re-evaluate Relentlessly - What you need to apply is
Apple- Example 1
Apple, originally a manufacturer of popular personal
computers, leveraged its expertise to expand into the
Initially, there was no logical reason for it to contemplate
taking on Sony and its ubiquitous Walkman.
But once Apple had created a new box and viewed itself
through a different lens—specifically, as a multimedia
company that knows circuits and bytes—the notion of
developing a digital “Walkman” became obvious.
When Apple first created its highly disruptive, history-making
iPhone, the company unleashed years of innovation not just
in its phone offerings, but in a seemingly infinite stream of
related accessories and applications.
The release of Apple’s long-awaited iPhone 5C and 5S
should offer business leaders everywhere a vivid reminder of
the distinction between paradigm-shifting “Creativity” and the
“Innovation” that often follows.
Creativity & innovation are two separate processes—both
important, but not identical.
Apple- Example 1
Creativity can be defined as people’s ability to change their
perception of reality; by doing so, they can then create new
ideas, hypotheses, approaches, and other “boxes.”
Apple couldn’t come up with the original iPod, for example,
until its leaders changed their mental boxes regarding what
a portable music player was—from the Sony Walkman to
one associated with a broader ecosystem.
The iPhone was not the first mobile phone, but it
fundamentally changed the box of what a mobile phone
could be (as Apple also did with the iPad and mouse).
Innovation can be defined as a change in reality.
In other words, innovation means taking an existing idea or
box, such as the idea for a new product, service, or business
model, and turning it into reality (for example, by
manufacturing the product or implementing the business
Once the first iPhone was developed, Apple was free to
create all sorts of new features for and iterations of the
iPhone and iPad—encouraging customers to change their
own understanding of the products’ possibilities.
Google’s original aspiration was to build the best
search engine ever.
Arguably, the company eventually achieved that.
But for Google to enter a new era of growth, it
needed to perceive itself differently.
The creation of a new “we want to know
everything” box sparked projects such as Google
Earth, Google Book Search, Google Map and
Google Labs, as well as further improvements to
the company’s search engine along with additional
enhancements to their legendary search engine.
Google- Example 2
Phillips- Example 3
Philips, a high-tech company, had concentrated its
efforts on product-oriented ventures ranging from
semiconductors to domestic appliances.
Then it started to shift its strategic emphasis and
endeavored to identify and exploit global trends in
health care and consumer markets.
In doing so, it has become a world leader in several
new categories, including home health-care systems.
By thinking in a new box, Philips has used its core
skills in different ways—and has fundamentally
changed its business as a result.
Michelin & IBM- Example 4
Michelin and IBM illustrate how some companies
have successfully moved from a product or
technology orientation to a solutions or results
orientation—without necessarily abandoning their
core products or technologies.
Michelin, the tire manufacturer, is now a road
safety specialist, while IBM, the computer giant,
has entered the consulting business.
Starting out as a cheap disposable pen
manufacturer, Bic shifted its business strategy to
one which now makes lightweight disposable
plastic consumer goods like pens, lighters and
shavers. This helped the company to thrive amidst
stiff foreign competition from Chinese
manufacturers of consumer goods.
Rather than simply view itself as a pen company,
Bic started to think of itself as a mass producer of
inexpensive plastic implements, hence creating a
Bic from France
Tsiferblat cafe in Russia doesn't charge for drinks or
food, unlike cafes around the world. Instead,
patrons are charged based on the amount of time
they spend there. The price is two rubles a minute
for the first hour (approx. S$5 an hour) & then one
Ruble per minute for the time beyond that up to a
maximum of five hours. During that time, you can
drink as many lattes or eat as many cakes as you
By charging for time instead of food and drinks, the
cafe's business model is more similar to that of
hotels than other F&B establishments.
Ace Hotel across the US offers its hotel lobbies
as places for people to work, chill out & study
Touted as the "anti boutique hotel" concept, the
hotel chain turns old world buildings into charming
hang outs complete with antique furniture, shelves
of books, & installation art.
Fashioned as Chic Bohemian places, these places
lure folks who will order food or drinks from the hotel.
Its lobbies are no longer waiting areas but are
transformed into profitable hang out zones.
Human beings think in mental models;
the only problem, however,
is that every model has a finite lifespan.
Often, it’s success that blinds us from
challenging our current business assumptions.
Never Stop Looking Around The Corner.
The best time to innovate is ALWAYS.
are always looking for the next big thing..
If you find yourself stuck,
It’s likely that you’ve failed to identify
your current assumptions and constraints
Thinking in new boxes
starts when you ask the question,
“What should we do?”
not, “How should we do what we do?”
Want to Ignite the creativity of your Team ?
Create a Culture which fosters Doubt
Your Breakthroughs are at the intersection
Inductive & Deductive thinking
Deductive thinking is logical
“ What I know “ approach
Your Breakthroughs are at the intersection
Inductive & Deductive thinking
Inductive thinking is Creative
Extending range of possibilities
Start thinking in new boxes
The challenge is knowing what to look for, and how to react. I
saw some real guidance in this book.
While the focus of the book is really on business creativity, the
following triggers were outlined as weak signals which should not
be overlooked in your efforts think in a new box:
A Change in Value Proposition
A new unmet customer or consumer need
The entry of new competitor or new supplier
The advent of new breakthrough technologies
Changes in your organization’s core
Unfulfilled business & other potential
Broad disruptive events
Premonitions, anxieties, and/or intuitions.