Outside of the Box Thinking

“I read research from the University of Toronto and Harvard that people who are the really creative people, the ones who can think out of the box, usually have some sort of mental illness in their family history. So now I can stop feeling like I’m a big braggart when I say that I’m very creative. It’s my payoff for a family full of mental problems.”

So writes Penelope Trunk (shared by @LindaParriot on Twitter) in her post ‘How to think out of the box’ (read the full post at Penelope’s Trunk blog.) (This also explains why I get those strange looks from people at times . . .)

In assessing the characteristics of those who have become renown out-of-the-box thinkers, Trunk shows how they first must become skilled at thinking inside of the box:

“The thing about thinking out of the box is you have to know where the box is. People think my talent is thinking out of the box. But that’s not it—my talent is finding the box, defining it. I am great at studying the rules. I love rules. The rules are what the box is made of. So here’s a rule: it’s not out of the box if it’s not in the vicinity of the box.

“But most often, people waste their creativity thinking about stuff they know nothing about. So they have no idea if they are in the box or out of the box.

“Here’s a good example: I used to teach freshman writing at Boston University. I received way too many stories about the first time having sex or the first time masturbating. The writers thought they were being daring and original. In fact, they were writing in a long vein of this type of story (On the Road, Rubyfruit Jungle, The Pillow Book, even The Bible.) And the students were writing what was such a common story that graduate students would parody the stories in their free time.

“If the freshmen had been reading literature in the genre where they were trying to write literature, they would have known.”

So, in essence, to truly think outside if the box, I need to immerse myself inside of the box, learn its rules, study the lives of people who live there, and intentionally live there myself.

“Another thing. I get a request every day to write a guest post for this blog. I tell people you can write a guest post if you have a controversial opinion. People honestly have no idea what a controversial opinion is. They give me ideas for stuff that has been said a million times (for example, don’t take a conventional career path).

“It takes tremendous expertise in order to get out of the box. You have to have years thinking about the box, and watching people put things in, and then you have to have an idea that you recognize as fitting near the box but not in it. (Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says this process takes 10,000 hours.)”

So I really need to be dedicated if I wish to be creatively unconventional. Or, perhaps, a life lived for so long in the box will count as credit hours in this school-of-the-box and help to fast track me to a more creative and untravelled path of thought.

At least I hope that’s the way it is, because I don’t like the alternative of box-ruled living.


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