What Does Thinking Outside the Box Mean (& Should We Do It More Often?)

Showcase the BenefitsWe’ve all heard the saying: ‘think outside the box’. But who really stops to consider the meaning behind this phrase and why it’s something to aim for? And who’s there to consider how outside-the-box thinking can be achieved in the world of online learning?

Us, that’s who!

What Do We Mean By ‘Thinking Outside The Box’?

Sometimes, we can get pretty stuck in our ways. We just go through the motions, doing what we need to but no more. We’re scared to deviate from the set route and make our own paths.

A lot of the time we’re not even really present in what we’re doing — we’re on auto-pilot. That’s not just a metaphor either. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development discovered that the anatomical structure of the brain has a built-in auto-pilot setting, something they like to call the ‘default mode network’.

This means that that neuronal activity naturally switches to this resting state whenever there are no external influences on the brain.

In this way, the brain is a very efficient piece of kit, but it’s all too easy to drift into this safe-and-steady mode a little too often, and that’s not always a good thing. Ever arrived home from work and not been able to remember the drive?

This also applies to learning in the workplace. If we come across a really tricky problem, like a technical issue at work or a theory in our eLearning unit that we just can’t get our heads around, being stuck in this mindset can really set us back.

We end up banging our heads against a brick wall hoping to find a way through – but that just leaves us with a headache.

On the other hand, if we think outside the box and come at the problem from a different angle, we can more often than not find a solution.

Simply put, ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ means letting go of mental constraints or default ways of reasoning we’ve boxed ourselves in, and flying free to embrace new or innovative ways of thinking.

Why Should We Think Outside The Box?

As we said, thinking outside the box – thinking laterally ­– means we can approach difficulties in different ways. Say you’re trying to bake bread and you’re following a recipe, but for some reason, it’s just not going right. You’ve followed the recipe to the letter and it worked in the past, but not today.

You’re getting frustrated, wondering what’s wrong with the recipe, or with your skills, or maybe you’re blaming the nearest person!

When you think outside the box, you’re more able to discover the real cause of the failure: “If it’s not me, not the ingredients and not the recipe, what could be the matter…?” you ask yourself.

“Ah! Of course. When I made the bread before, it was summer. Now it is winter and my house is a lot colder. No wonder the dough isn’t rising as quickly as it should!”

It’s simple, really. And now you know that instead of getting mad and punching the dough just a little bit harder than you really need to, you just have to give it a wee bit longer to rise.

How Can You Start to Think Outside the Box?

In online learning terms, thinking outside the box means that if you’re having difficulties engaging learners, you need to approach it in a different way. Everyone learns differently. Some people are active learners, some learn by watching, listening or reading.

What works for some might not work for others, so don’t just assume that an eLearning unit will give every learner everything they need – there is always more for them to learn once you let them open their minds and set their thinking free.

You see, your learners could pull their hair out trying to understand something in their training programme, but this formal learning will only ever count towards 10% of everything they learn at work. Informal learning, the other 90%, covers everything that happens outside of formal learning and a lot of that has to do with interacting with colleagues.

The easiest way to engage your learners is to help them think outside of their own boxes – and the easiest way to do that is to give them a collaborative social platform. Learners don’t have to stay within the ‘box’ of formal learning.

Once they know where they can go to flex their brains and gather new information that complements what they’ve already learnt, they can don their thinking caps and continue their learning journey ‘outside the box’.

And when learners are able to think outside the box, they become better thinkers; they’ll be better able to learn new things, come up with new strategies and create plans to implement all their new-found knowledge.

The great thing about a social learning platform is that none of this knowledge is lost. Organisations have a better chance of capturing this informal learning and using it to plan their formal learning strategy – everybody wins!

Want to unleash informal learning in your L&D approaches? Download our ‘70:20:10 Tip Sheet‘ here!

In addition, supercharge your “outside the box” thinking by really digging into the hidden powers of the Brain! Check out these informative (and fun!) articles ‘70:20:10 Model‘, ‘The SCARF Model of Engagement‘ & ‘The Forgetting Curve‘.

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