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Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box.


Guilford was one of the first academic researchers who dared to conduct a study of creativity. The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box.

Speakers, trainers, training program developers, organizational consultants, and university professors all had much to say about the vast benefits of outside-the-box thinking.

SHARE Although studying creativity is considered a legitimate scientific discipline nowadays, it is still a very young one.

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In fact, only a meager 25 percent did. Both teams followed the same protocol of dividing participants into two groups. In other words, the difference could easily be due to what statisticians call sampling error.

That this advice is useless when actually trying to solve a problem involving a real box should effectively have killed off the much widely disseminated—and therefore, much more dangerous—metaphor that out-of-the-box thinking spurs creativity.


Indeed, the concept enjoyed such strong popularity and intuitive appeal that no one bothered to check the facts. They are much more common than you probably think.

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The idea went viral via s-era media and word of mouth, of course. But you will find numerous situations where a creative breakthrough is staring you in the face.

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Today many people are familiar with this puzzle and its solution. The second group was told that the solution required the lines to be drawn outside the imaginary box bordering the dot array. In the s, however, very few were even aware of its existence, even though it had been around for almost a century.

Would you like to guess the percentage of the participants in the second group who solved the puzzle correctly?

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Solving this problem requires people to literally think outside the box. Most people assume that 60 percent to 90 percent of the group given the clue would solve the puzzle easily. Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.

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After all, with one simple yet brilliant experiment, researchers had proven that the conceptual link between thinking outside the box and creativity was a myth.

If you have tried solving this puzzle, you can confirm that your first attempts usually involve sketching lines inside the imaginary square. It was an appealing and apparently convincing message.