“Think Outside the Box”… but Look Behind the Curtain

February 17, 2010

The first time I heard the phrase “Think Outside the Box” was shortly after I had graduated from college. I was working at a small but thriving visual communications firm. Concerned about growing too fast and losing control, the president invited a few business consultants in to see if they could help us manage our growth. Being a rookie designer, I was honored when the president asked me to attend the presentations.

Perhaps the stars were aligned just so that week, but of the three consultancies invited to present, the first two started their presentations the exact same way… by challenging us with a nine-dot puzzle. Solving it required connecting each dot using four straight, continuous lines—without lifting the pen from the paper.

The first consultant seemed taken aback by our questions and passion toward solving it. Apparently he had come in expecting to present the puzzle, answer a few predictable questions, watch us make some failed attempts, and then give us the answer. Until that day, he had only presented to business executives who had little interest in solving visual puzzles—not graphic designers.

By using a very wide marker, all nine dots could be connected with only one line.

When I asked him if we could use one line rather than four, he just smiled. “If you can solve the puzzle using only one line, by all means, be my guest. Just make certain it’s a straight line… and don’t lift your pen.” Before I could respond, he added, “If you solve it with four lines, lunch is on me… solve it with one line and I’ll make certain you get a raise… and bonus, too,” then winked at the president of our firm.

When I explained that my solution required a very wide pen, he began shaking his head and then with a dismissive laugh said, “No… I’m afraid that would be cheating… you have to use a standard size pen.” Then he held his marker up for everyone to see before asking again, “Okay, are you ready for the answer?” Read more

Seeing Beyond Labels

January 18, 2010

Our five senses collect far more input than we can ever process. To prevent sensory overload, our brain filters and edits the outside world. Through this selection process, our perception of reality is established and maintained. In other words, our reality is a filtered version of REALITY itself.

Subconsciously, our brain selects what we believe is possible, plausible and “real,” while ignoring or blocking everything else. Have you ever been in a noisy room with many conversations going on at once when out of nowhere you hear your name mentioned?

That’s your filter at work. Since you consider your name to be important, your brain filters out the less important information and focuses on your name. It’s this selection and rejection process that establishes your sense of reality. It also establishes what you consider a “problem” and what you consider a “solution.”

Modifying our brain filter isn’t easy. It’s even harder when those around us share similar beliefs and expectations. It’s hard to see a new solution when it has been labeled and accepted as a problem… but it is possible. Read more