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Why Do People Have Trouble Thinking Outside of the Box? And Is There a Way to Help People Get Out of the Box?

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

The thread title basically says it all. I guess I’d also be interested in hearing if you think this is a big problem—in your workplace, community, organizations you’re a part of or the country as a whole.

TRILLAR​Y DUFF

over 1 year ago

trouble thinking outside the box as in what? as in failing to express an idea without using insipid, meaningless cliches like “thinking outside the box”?

orrrrr

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

“The box” is the way we’re thought to think, so . . .

Arlene Weiss

over 1 year ago

I have a problem with that term or phrase rather..

…I would rather say that I am not a conforming, apathetic, sheeple, I am pretty much, as much of an outsider that thinks for myself. I’m punk without dressing punk because even that is a way of conforming. I just am a normal joe (jane since I’m a woman) who never caved to peer pressure in school, at work, to bullies, or otherwise & try to do the right thing and think for myself and yes, people don’t like it but they don’t write my paycheck or give me an authentic, spiritually & emotionally satisfying life, so I live what makes me happy and what I feel is right with a life lived with integrity & purpose.

As they say nowadays haters gonna hate anyhow…and I don’t even like that term..so say I march to the beat of my own different drummer. That’s my old school phrase for what you said.

House 0f Leaves

-moderator-
over 1 year ago

I would imagine most who have trouble with this are not aware of their particular box, not comfortable stepping outside of it, or not knowledgeable enough, or creative enough.

This is one of the things that I say when people ask me if I regret getting a degree in English, since, “You never use it, do you?”

I use it daily. Having to think critically (whether analyzing a literary text or a peer’s creative effort) or creatively (creating your own works) constantly pushes you to use the depths of your knowledge and to stand on the very edges of it, since there is always more out there.

Another thing that helps is a constant openness to the possibility that your present state of belief is inaccurate, so that when contradictory but irrefutable evidence presents itself, it’s much more easy to assimilate.

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Matt

“The box” is the way we’re thought to think, so . . .

Did you mean “taught to think,” or did you mean “thought to think?”

@Arlene

I have a problem with that term or phrase rather..

You mean, you don’t like the expression? Or do you not like the idea of not being able to think “outside the box?”

@HoL

I would imagine most who have trouble with this are not aware of their particular box, not comfortable stepping outside of it, or not knowledgeable enough, or creative enough.

Yeah, I agree with this. I would add that I think many people would acknowledge that this is a problem, but they would think other people have this problem, not them.

I use it daily. Having to think critically (whether analyzing a literary text or a peer’s creative effort) or creatively (creating your own works) constantly pushes you to use the depths of your knowledge and to stand on the very edges of it, since there is always more out there.

I’m with you here. I think that last line is especially true if you write a lot—particularly if you write in a way that is closely related to exploring and seeking out answers, being open to the discovery of different ideas and new insights.

Another thing that helps is a constant openness to the possibility that your present state of belief is inaccurate, so that when contradictory but irrefutable evidence presents itself, it’s much more easy to assimilate.

Yeah, I think this is important as well: it helps to be comfortable with uncertainty and the idea that you can be wrong. Keeping this state of mind can be really difficult.

I’d add one more thing. Having a clear understanding of the ultimate objective and purpose and reasons for this objective can be really important. My sense is that people do things without really understanding why they’re doing it. I’m basically thinking about work situation. If you ask a worker, why do you do such-and-such, you will sometimes here the response, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” So people learn to behave and act—without knowing why these behaviors and actions are important. This approach is appealing because asking the why question can be a pain in the butt—it can be complicated, and it seemingly doesn’t have practical value. And then once people become familiar with the proper procedures and behaviors, this provides a sense of stability and comfort. Now they’re in “the box.”

I think getting out of the box is very difficult unless you have a good understanding of the purpose of the work; the ultimate objectives and why those goals are important. Basically, you need a good understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the work and organization. But I suspect a lot of people don’t have this level of understanding—maybe mainly because they’re not interested in this type of information—and, again, generally speaking, it doesn’t really have much practical value. But creating a new way to do thing is very difficult without this understanding, as this understanding can help and guide the person into finding a new, more productive way of operating.

Let me give an example. I know teachers and people in the teacher’s union. Unions, including the teacher’s union, seem to focus on things like workplace conditions, salaries and benefits, etc. These are important, but there are also other issues that teachers might care a great deal. For example, the competence and leadership of the principal and administrators can have a huge impact on morale and performance. (I think there’s also a need study that shows it has a significant impact on teacher retention.) Suppose you have a principal that isn’t really organized—runs meetings poorly; doesn’t clearly communicate her expectations; doesn’t really understand the importance of curriculum; ignores poor performing teachers, etc. These issues may not be part of the contract so the union may feel like they really can’t do anything. Yet, these issues may matter a great deal to the rank and file. Isn’t the union supposed to be looking out for the issues that matter most to the rank and file? That’s the bottom line—and it should supercede the traditional ways (i.e., “the box”) of doing things.

Dennis...Brian

over 1 year ago

the well regarded writing teacher Peter Elbow was big on free writes

he would suggest people free write non-stop for 30 mins (write without any topic or direction) and then read what ideas they had. People often had a few creative gems they did not know they had in them

if you do this every day and see what you are capable of, your intellectual confidence grows and you become a more creative person

Dennis...Brian

over 1 year ago

or you just pump people with praise anytime they have an outside the box thought

if enough people tell a fat guy he is sexy, he will start to wear tight jeans

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

I thought the filmmaker and writers of SKYFALL were ‘thinking outside the box’ for once.
I thought Obama was ‘thinking outside the box’ and risking political suicide by using drones instead of armies.

Is ‘thinking outside the box’ only admirable or applicable if it’s something we agree upon, something that suits our own principles and sensibilities?

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

@JAZZ-"…in your workplace, community, organizations you’re a part of or the country as a whole.’’

Have you been to a community meeting? Oftentimes the difficulties lie in the cultural make up within those things you mentioned above.

As an individual one have more freedom to choose one’s own direction, more space to create, maneuver. But being a ‘functioning’ member of society means being part of ‘groupthink’ culture- democracy, committees, majority-based decision making and all that good stuff (the Teacher’s Union was a good example). In this culture we are concerned with leadership, rank-n-file and the roles each person plays within a group. This is not always a question of courage, creativity, intelligence or efficiency.

Thinking outside the box is NOT difficult, but one needs the power of persuasion to convince others of the benefits by going in that opposite direction. Thinking outside the box may solve a problem, but how would it impact other factors involved? Is it PC? Is it cost-effective? Is it worth the risk financially, politically? Will it erode civil liberties? How is ACLU/ Wall Street/ Media going to react?

Thinking outside the box must begin with an individual, it’s true. Scientists, designers and inventors do it all the time. Still, they sometime need the approval of someone positioned higher. But ideally one needs to be in a leadership position- a manager, a General, a chairman, a CEO- someone who got the power to implement these solutions, to make an impact, create changes.

Steve Jobs- yup, he not only thinks outside the box, he knew what he wanted but also got the power to push others to achieve his goals and change a culture… warts and all.

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

““Well, we’ve always done it this way.”

That’s often followed by “You want to do it your way? Quit and start your own company”.

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

Back to film…
This quote from GHOST WORLD summed it up nicely:

“You really want to fuck up the system? Go to business school. That’s what I’m going to do. Get a job in some big corporation and, like, fuck things up from the inside.”

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

You know who thrive professionally without having to ‘think outside the box’? Critics

For every one Miles Davis, there’s one drooling Stanley Crouch sitting in the wings.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

“You know who thrive professionally without having to ‘think outside the box’? Critics”

um . . .

Arlene Weiss

over 1 year ago

@ HOL said “I use it daily. Having to think critically (whether analyzing a literary text or a peer’s creative effort) or creatively (creating your own works) constantly pushes you to use the depths of your knowledge and to stand on the very edges of it, since there is always more out there.”

Same here, as I also have degrees in English & Communications, and am a writer & journalist, plus I am tired of people nowadays who can’t even barely read or write just to FUNCTION in daily life, at work, on a computer, very sad.

@ Jazzaloha said "@Arlene

I have a problem with that term or phrase rather..

You mean, you don’t like the expression? Or do you not like the idea of not being able to think “outside the box?”"

I think that the term itself has become the very thing it meant to oppose. EVERYONE is so concerned with jumping on this bandwagon, & this now tired & old cultural catchphrase, and in being cool, edgy, having cred, or appearing so at least, that now everyone uses & says this catchphrase & seems to think about it constantly, …..yet ironically..they are only doing it…to…conform and fit in with everyone else, thereby defeating its meaning & purpose altogether.

As I said, sheeple. Here’s a no brainer…why not just think for yourself, be your own person and what makes you happy. I guess since that just is good and plain common sense which can be utilized and put into one’s life throughout man’s existence on earth….

…and not some cool, edgy pop culture catchphrase that hipsters, Salon Magazine, and corporate managers latch onto as well and steal for their own zeitgist…it just sounds stupid or old fashioned and people don’t think to do it because that’s exactly what it IS…thinking…USE YOUR BRAIN!! Forget the darn box and what you think is the trendy, cool thing or being afraid that you’re NOT cool or trendy. What an idea! LOL!

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

You can take what I wrote with a grain of salt, but you know who and what I was getting at. Throw in a picture of Chabrol, Rivette and Ebert, might as well ha-ha!

Yeah, Truffaut (Godard and etc…) is an exception but he’ll always be remembered for his great work as a filmmaker. Half of the world’s moviewatching population (outside of film circles) who’s fortunate enough to see his work wouldn’t be a bit concerned two shits about his time at Cahiers du cinéma.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

Film culture would be completely different without his work as a critic, though. Even people who’ve never read anything he’s written have been influenced by it.

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

I agree, however being influenced or inspired is one thing, creating/ producing art is different and the most important thing altogether.
Since we have Truffaut as an example, would you agree that his admiration of Hawks or Hitchcock or Wells inspired him to finally pick up a camera and create, perhaps finally applying the auteur theory to his own film? The same can be said to filmmakers who followed after being inspired by the French New Wave, and so on…

I have my biases but I don’t have any argument towards creators of art. The best way to learn and apply theories is by actually putting them in action- creating, problem solving (finding solution outside that damn invisible box), producing work of art.

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

Just to be clear, what I meant by “FUNCTIONING MEMBERs OF SOCIETY”, that’s NOT a slag against any individualists, loners, lone wolves, rebels or people who simply don’t want to go with the flow and be a part of the herd. I’d like to consider myself one lonewolf and more power to you, them, us, whatever. But the reality is a majority of people in society work and function within a collective group, a company, an office, a professional setting where doing the opposite, against the flow is not a luxury one can always enjoy… not at least if they want to keep their jobs.

Matt Parks

over 1 year ago

Sure, all I was implying is that without receptive audiences and good criticism, you don’t have a healthy art culture.

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

Like most Jazz threads, this one is in need of some establishing criteria to focus what each individual is talking about, in order to make a broad and multifaceted topic cohere from individuals’ perspectives. That is to say, that it is fine that the topic is broad and let’s have this discussion, but I am at least going to attempt to provide a taxonomy of terms to work off of, so that two people talking about about two different things using the same terms won’t argue against points each other are not making; so that two people arguing about something using different terms may be aware that they’re actually agreeing about the same thing; and so that if the question itself concerns the limits of this taxonomy (which it most likely will), then we have a basic foundation to build off of before it spirals too far into obfuscation.

Finally, almost everybody reacted immediately to the term itself, which by the way has two predominant contemporary uses, one is institutional (which I’ll get into in my taxonomy below) and the other is cliche.

So to start off with, we first have to acknowledge that there’s two major scientific reasons why most people think alike:

THE TOP TIER: UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL NORMATIVE THINKING

This section is for understanding why social normative thinking and status quo behavior exists, and why ideas and actions that reside outside of norms tend to be scary or disturbing to most individuals.

Part I: ABERRANT VS. SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

My Facebook page exploded yesterday with outrage, disbelief, fear, politics, and grief. It was as if someone went and shot some kids or something.

But among the plurality of voices of individual, idiosyncratic reactions (anywhere from counterprogramming individuals immediately setting to task sharing cute kitties and babies to make people feel better, to people starting petitions or bringing up old petitions to disband the second amendment), not a single person pointed out that shooting a bunch of people was a pretty out-of-the-box solution to your mother issues. Nor did anybody complain about how everyone on Facebook was being conformist because of their emotional reactions to this event, like they would with other memes, because it is just and understandable that most people should have a visceral negative reaction to such a horrific event.

This is because regardless of how much we want to privilege creative forms of unique behavior (which is what I’ll get into below in part II), society weeds out destructive, antisocial, and insane forms of behavior. In fact we call them mentally ill, because their thoughts and actions do not cohere with a stable form of social interaction or reality, so that they are by definition destructive and dangerous to themselves and other people. The thing is that their brain literally does not function the way a ‘stable’ one is supposed to.

In this case ‘the box’ that we define as sanity is a relatively Darwinian enterprise. Those who think outside of it need something, from medical attention to therapy, to be brought back in, and some of them simply cannot. Those who exhibit aberrant behavior tend to die or get killed relatively quickly and also do not tend to nurture close enough and safe enough relationships to breed, so their behavior remains relatively rare (despite how the media presents it).

For purposes of this discussion I am sure we are all in some agreement that we are not interested in promoting aberrant behaviors. However, acknowledging this basic social psychological structure is important because it is the launching off point of why different and abnormal, but not necessarily aberrant, behavior may be confusing or outright disturbing to social groups. Aberrant behavior is destructive, even to innocents who have no part to play in the development or lack thereof of the individual who exhibits it. Thus in our discussion we should be able to use the term aberrant to refer to destructive behaviors we don’t want people to engage in.

Understanding that there are thus actual limitations to thought processes and behaviors, outside of which a person becomes literally aberrant and destructive, is one-third of understanding why normative thinking and status quo is important to societies and why individuals tend not to When we expand upon this idea from the individual level, we get

PART II: IN-GROUP OUT-GROUP SOCIAL NORMATIVE THINKING

…which is where we broaden the scope from dissonant individuals destructive to a group, to groups that are internally coherent and supportive but possibly destructive or at least in competition with each other. This would be the reason for war, which despite being clearly destructive and thus you would think automatically selected out of wider social or even global normative thinking, is surprisingly relatively normal throughout human history. This is because social groups often feel that the presence of another social group literally threatens their own existence, so in order to defend their own social group, must eliminate the source of the threat, which is the other social group.

Now I purposefully started right off with war so soon after the aberrant behavior section because quite frankly, eliminating the other side as opposed to going through all the work and resources necessary to come to an agreement strikes me as being rather aberrant. But it’s necessary to also split war away from aberrant behavior to point out that whereas the two societies do not cohere, individually the societies function on their own. War is as much memeological as it is genetic: a Christian society exists just fine on its own, a Muslim society exists just fine on its own, when the two meet certain behaviors that Christians exhibit strike Muslims as aberrant and vice versa, and so in order to eliminate the perceived aberrant behavior the two strike out at each other. Meanwhile neither side has truly aberrant behavior in the strict definition I’ve created above, because neither society is self destructive to themselves, only to the other.

BUT, if that’s all sounding insane to you, that’s part of the point I’m making — that within your own social group (in this case, let’s just say MUBI), it strikes us as socially aberrant behavior that a Christian society and a Muslim society would fight each other at all, and that the logic of being threatened by another society is insane. In the meantime, those who feel their society is legitimately threatened would think that we’re insane because we allow what they consider to be socially aberrant behavior; by attempting to be inclusive of dissonant outsider societies, we are allowing behavior into our society that is destructive to our society. And as ridiculous as it sounds, in some ways it’s strictly, technically true: no two societies can meet without ultimately changing each other and destroying older forms of thought, though that destruction may be merely memeological and the resulting hybrid society could in retrospect be a lot better off on it. Doesn’t change the fact that all change comes with the threat of confronting norms that had some reason or another of existing in the past to protect societies, even though those norms may not be useful in that sense now.

The other problem with writing off social in-group out-group behavior as aberrant is that it’s simply impossible for social groups to not develop in that way. What we can do is attempt to create a wider in-group of ‘humanity’ wherein the behavior of war is aberrant, but what we cannot do is stop individual groups from coming into conflict with other groups. To prevent war we need truly creative outside of the box thinking.

Thus in this case, the box is the social group, and outside-of-the-box thinking either comes from traditions and cultural mores that simply do not fit in with or serve the interests of another group, or from people inside the group who are attempting to change the structure of the box. In that case, there’s plenty of outside-the-box thinking that is useful (looking to other societies to find better solutions to your own society’s problems; or thinking up novel solutions for your society’s problems), some outside-the-box thinking that is useless but harmless (adopting culturally specific practices that have no service to your culture, without joining the other culture), and some outside-the-box thinking that is debateably harmful (adopting a cultural practice that your society has gotten rid of because it was destructive, but subsisted in another society for historically specific reasons. The most popular of these examples is actually a false one because there’s no society that was found to exhibit these tendencies in the way we imagine, but cannibalism is often cited. It doesn’t matter if it worked for some small population, by and large cannibalism can be considered an out-group cultural more that is unacceptable in modern societies).

In group/Out group thinking is precisely where the question of outside the box has the biggest gray area, because whereas we don’t want individuals to be aberrant, we also don’t want societies to be so cocooned they destroy themselves or other groups rather than evolve and change. Nevertheless understanding why that sort of thinking exists is understanding why people as a general rule have a visceral reaction to ‘Otherness’: memes that exist outside their group’s normative perception of reality may conflict with social cohesion, the basis of which determines the group’s individuals’ survival, the biggest example of that being war.

So when discussing the issue of thinking of an individual within a society or social group, there exists some parameters in which creative and indiosyncratic thinking still resides within acceptable norms, but thinking outside those parameters may threaten social cohesion; and what makes it truly complicated is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell which memes are acceptable and which are antisocial, the result of which I’ll just call politics.

Also note that groups exist on multiple levels and some groups thrive by turning members of their groups into smaller competitive groups on purpose. Athletic teams subsist on competing against other teams and cohering as a team themselves, but during practice it is necessary to pit team members against themselves so that individual team members will continue to struggle to better themselves and don’t peak on their athletic skills. Managers sometimes hold sales competitions with employees to give them the incentive to sell more, while employees sometimes can find good in-group coherence by helping each other so that they don’t have to deal with a shitty manager, meanwhile the whole enterprise employees and manager are there for the purpose of business, which may or may not be competing against another business, those two businesses as an industry that may or may not be competing with other industries in an economy that may or may not be competing with other economies.

PART III: COGNITIVE BIAS AND GROUPTHINK

This is the stuff studied predominantly under the label of psychology and sociology. I can’t even cover all of the issues here, but the general idea is that individuals require social support for their thoughts. This is why a woman can be stabbed to death in front of a group of people and nobody does anything about it: it’s not because each individual is a bad person, but because the group is there in the first place. The same principle underlines the reason why movies have these things called ‘reaction shots’. We as humans look to the faces of other humans to learn how to react. It’s also the reason why any statement, regardless of how accurate, true, or provable, can be dismissed with a scoff in a debate and people will automatically start to accept that the statement may possibly be false, if they don’t outright consider it to be.

Here is a list of cognitive biases . A lot of them pretty much come down to how our brain actually operates and is just something we can be aware of, but not fully capable of preventing. The page does a good job of describing the difference between rationality and irrationality, which is what this Part III is really focused on. If part I is about the difference between sanity and Insanity, part II cohesion and conflict, then part III deals with rationality and irrationality.

Groupthink sounds like it should fit into the in-group/out-group metric, and it does, but it’s part of where cognitive bias and social cohesion meet. Sometimes a solution, not the best solution, is adopted into a group and then the group begins to cohere around it despite its problems, and groupthink is where the individuals of the group have developed a cognitive bias surrounding it regardless of their otherwise individual perspective. Oftentimes social perceptions such as urban legends, hype, or superstitions derive from adopting groupthink. A lot of groupthink is in fact necessary: we cannot all be specialists in everything, so we leave the really difficult and time-consuming information for the specialists and adopt an accessible metric of activity to perform ourselves which may not actually be the correct practice. It’s really easy for us to wash our hands because germs and stuff, but few of us actually do it correctly (hot water, certain length of time, forget about the antibacterial soap regular soap will do). What we do do is in good service to the wider health of ourselves and our community, but most people honestly don’t do it right. Washing your hands is actually a pretty time consuming activity all considered, so we merely rinse them and call it washing.

Like in-group/out-group thinking, the box here is not something you can get rid of entirely, but only something you can adjust the limitations of, to a degree. Unlike in-group/out-group thinking, you are your own worst enemy because the box we’re talking about is your brain. Even as you try to think outside of it, you can only do so within the limitations of its cognitive abilities and evolutionary design. To give you even more howling fantods, your ability to ‘think outside the box’ is regulated by such things as the language you speak, which provides limitations to the ideas you can conceive. Those limitations can be expanded, but usually do so reactively as opposed to productively, which is to say we develop new words to deal with new phenomena, we don’t tend to make up new words and then expend the energy to create the previously nonexistent phenomenon we’re naming.

At which point creative people want to jump in and say, “NUH UH!” but I’ll get to that, below.

Our cognition is built upon a variety of influences that we cannot simply discard or dismiss, and many of them were developed for our very survival, so thinking outside of the box is not only difficult and time-consuming, but in many cases impractical or involve a greater investment than benefit to change.

BONUS ROUND: BEING WRONG.

Since this doesn’t really fit into its own space it’s not a new part, but a subpart of cognitive bias and groupthink: plain-old irrationality.

A lot of people come up with new ideas daily that sound neat and fun, but to actively pursue those ideas would not really lead to anything productive; we can even here open up room for the idea of investment and state that some movies may be unique and novel ideas, but wouldn’t satisfy anyone or make anyone care, and would be a financial failure. Instead of thinking toward arthouse and conceptually, think instead of making a feature length movie where the world ends off-screen but all the imagery is is a static shot of a hotel lobby door, and you occassionally see pedestrians running in panic past it. It’s a funny joke, but probably not worth the expense to make; even those who like the joke are going to get impatient with the length, and for every critic who sez it’s a riff on spectatorship there’ll be a critic that sez it’s self-indulgent. Such a movie is the type that comes up in conversation all the time, usually proceeded by, “Wouldn’t it be funny if….?” and then is gladly forgotten so that nobody actually has to expend energy either making it or watching it.

Or sometimes someone comes up with a new, novel idea, pursues it, and it just turns out to be incorrect. In most cases this is harmless, but if the person gets affixated on the idea it can become over time aberrant.

Or sometimes people use correct information to come up with incorrect conclusions, in a manner that seems compelling and even logical.

So sometimes the ‘box’ is mere logic, and thinking outside of it fails to perform anything productive to the conversation or question taking place. In that case you can always think outside of the box and answer “2 + 2 = purple, in my world, teeheehee!”, and it’s not aberrant because it doesn’t hurt anyone, and it’s not social out-group thinking, and it’s not breaking cognitive bias or group think, but your teacher isn’t being an agent of the Man or a humorless bitch when she fails you.

A major problem with ‘being wrong’ is that your brain is developed to believe it is right, and if your being wrong happens to cohere with some form of social thinking or misappropriate logic, then you fall into groupthink or even the group itself begins to adopt aberrant behavior. Hence relatively benevolent institutions such as religions or governments or companies may turn into socially destructive forces at the hands of particularly charismatic wrong people who either consciously or naturally know how to exploit people’s cognitive biases, including their own.

So the point of all of above is mostly (with exceptions of the discussion of things like war or groupthink) to explain why social normative thinking exists, and with the exceptions detailed, to point out that most of it is for social cohesion and individual coherency. That means most of ‘the box’ is benevolent and shelters you from the chaos of useless information and aberrant behavior. The problem is when the box itself also suffocates you from growth, blocks off benevolent or useful evolutionary behavior, or even creates threatening or aberrant social behavior.

Part two will be where I delineate the various types of ‘productive out-of-the-box’ thinking that fits within social cohesion and non-aberrant behavior, but confronts problematic phenomena such as groupthink or destructive in-group/out-group conflict.

—PolarisDiB

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

BOTTOM TIER: TYPES OF PRODUCTIVE OUT-OF-THE-BOX THINKING.

The issues stated above with the the wording of this phrase are accurate and correct to question its usage. The term ‘Out of the box’ and much of Jazzaloha’s OP directs itself to institutional thinking, which it turns out my mother is a specialist in. So for instance, she and I often have long conversations about ‘corporatese’ and the tendency of various institutions to adopt nomenclature that at one point is useful, until after a while it becomes abused and is itself a source of miscommunication in one sense, and groupthink in another sense. For instance, I shared with her a job posting I found once that managed to be a page long, and not say one single damned thing about what the position even entailed or what skills were necessary. We’ve discussed in another thread how academic writing can in some cases be called out for obfuscatory terminology, and the truth of the matter is that good writing is rare so most writers fall back on cliches, which is the same process underlining obfuscatory academic papers and corporatese job postings alike.

So, when using the term ‘out of the box’, we tend more often to be referring to institutions, and when we use the term ‘march to the beat of our own drum’, we tend to be more often referring to idiosyncratic individual personality traits, but the two of them have definitely fallen into cliche and thus lost their real sense of meaning.

Thus my first purpose, above, was to redefine ‘the box’, which is actually not the same box used when the metaphor was created. Now that I’ve defined various boxes and the reasons why they’ve existed, here are the various ways in which individuals attempt to think ‘outside’ of them:

CRITICAL THINKING

This is the fundamental development underlying all concepts described below. Humans being a form of animals, our brains are developed to be reactive to our environment, sometimes in not the most productive or useful of ways. Critical thinking is a long-continued social development of teaching people who to

RECEIVE information (read/watch/observe)
ANALYZE the information to discover what is useful and what is not (analysis)
USE the information that is useful (knowledge)
COMMUNICATE that knowledge to other people (communication)
ACT ON that information to create a solution to a problem or better improve previous solutions (productivity)

Despite all of these processes being built as a discipline and most often using the technology known as writing, they are methods in which humanity has built upon existent cognitive processes in a more self-aware manner so that they can better control the outcome. The same ability which developed for us to tell the difference between blades of grass and the stripes of a tiger is what enables us the ability to read, but our ability to read is what enables us to teach ourselves not to freak the fuck out the second we believe (without giving a second thought for other possibilities) that something moving in the dark may be trying to kill us. So if cognition is the box, then critical thinking enables us to poke eyeholes in it so that we can see where it’s going while building reinforcements on its weaker spots to protect us. It’s building upon the box, while not limiting ourselves to it.

Thus it is considered a fundamental human right in pretty much every society on the planet to educate people in critical thinking skills for the betterment of humanity as a whole. Whether or not societies are successful in their approach to that endeavor is pretty much a different story, and we have other threads devoted to that.

The ultimate use of critical thinking is to attempt to understand phenomena, or UNDERSTANDING. Understanding how a technology, tool, system, phenomenon, or even idea or concept works is essential for either using or removing that thing correctly and productively. For instance, no hammer is useful to someone who is not taught how to use it, even if its usage is fairly straightforward, and no system of government is benevolent to a populace that doesn’t understand it.

However, understanding itself using the tools of critical thinking only gives you the ability to work with what is, and novel solutions to any problems are relatively rare while novel problems require novel solutions. A top level critical thinker should have both knowledge and problem solving skills, which requires to some extent creative thinking.

CREATIVE THINKING

If facts were all we needed for knowledge and understanding them all we needed for problem-solving, we’d a) never be able to solve new problems and b) fall into a cognitive stasis. History and evolution alike suggest that survival privileges diversification, both genetically and memeologically. For whatever reason (cosmic fuck-you-ary), the reality is that standing still is losing.

The problem is what I’ve said above about being wrong and also aberrant behavior. Creative thinking is regulated to that which fits physical, emotional, psychological, and sociological limitations, which don’t always match what societies think they are (that is to say, you can have artwork that is controversial but nevertheless fits sociological normative thinking, and its ability to be controversial depends on its relatively proximity to the logic and cultural mores of the society it’s created in). So most creative thinking is based on previous ideas, and the creative thinker is the one who is capable of positing a new idea or solution without necessarily determining by its mere conception the requirement to follow it. That would be aberrant. In other words, creativity is the process of coming up with new ideas, whereas critical thinking is the ability to determine whether or not those ideas are any good or at all useful.

Creative thinking then has a box which is the cognitive limits of the brain, the social limits of what’s acceptable, and the physical/economic limits of what is possible. Whereas we need new, novel movies to keep us entertained, we cannot simply remake movies frame by frame (stasis), we cannot make a movie absolutely unlike any other movie made before (there are technical limitations that dictate your movie will in some way or another resemble some other movie, if for any other reason the fact that they are both movies), and the further you get away from traditional narrative cinema, the quicker your audience shrinks (thus in-groups must be developed to support non-traditional-narrative cinema, hence the variety of avant-garde styles and collectives, which exist for the purpose of giving a platform to out-of-the-box movies that do not cohere to social normative idea of what constitutes ‘a movie’).

Where thinking outside the box creative is not possible, in many places it’s not feasible or even desireable. We could have a national requirement that once a year, everyone must attend a lecture to see a Stan Brakhage film to understand that not all movies are action films starring hotties. That would be highly impractical, unhelpful, and even for all those who really, really believe that everyone ought to see a Stan Brakhage film, there’s plenty of others perfectly familiar with Stan Brakhage who think there’s much better and much more important work much more deserving of an annual government required holiday to participate in and understand, and then of course most of those people and most of the people who love Stan Brakhage can probably agree that it’s way too expensive to force an entire nation of 320million people to see one of his movies, that’s dumb. The point is that it’s a creative solution to the issue of people not understanding non-Hollywood works, but it’s still a bad idea.

A lot of argumentation surrounds the issue of whether or not ’there’s nothing new under the sun.’ I would take the stance from a historical perspective that creativity is the ability to apply information from one discipline to another, or in the case of the arts the ability to mix previous ideas to generate a new one. In other words, a creative individual may possibly find some solution to our problems of financial free market v. regulation by applying some rule from a Dungeons and Dragons handbook that accurately helps balance those issues and is considered an acceptable solution by most people. It’s unlikely, but if it happens it’s going to happen from a critical thinker familiar with the procedures and limitations of both the financial industry and Dungeons and Dragons, and capable of presenting the solution in a language that is not, “So I got this from a DnD handbook….” Hence it does not behoove people to dismiss Dungeons and Dragons players out-of-hand as being lazy and useless, except where Dungeons and Dragons becomes their focal point in a way that precludes them doing useful or productive activity in any other area: in other words, Dungeons and Dragons players that are not critical thinkers and maybe even aberrantly dependent on the game for self-worth.

INNOVATIVE THINKING

Is a type of creative thinking that applies to specific or specialist areas instead of the generalist umbrella of creative thinking, and hence is largely the plaything of institutions and the predominant application of the term ‘out of the box’. Innovative thinking is where a specialist or hobbyist in a certain discipline focuses on a need and creates a new and acceptable solution, or learns how to expand the usefulness or productivity or efficiency of a previous one. Hence Steve Jobs is called an ‘innovator’, because within the institution of computer development he would direct his company to focus on specific needs that customers may be having, even without knowing, and then engineer an easily understandable product that the customers would immediately adopt.

One of the biggest areas for innovative thinking is in marketing. It’s good to look at marketing for innovative thinking because marketers consistently have to balance between novel ideas and tried-and-true solutions: they simply cannot ignore the information they have about what works and what doesn’t, but nobody can run a successful campaign without attracting the audience to information that stands out from the noise of other information.

So that is the marketer’s ‘box’: they have specific target markets they cannot ignore unless they want to fail, but they also have to determine new markets and how to communicate them accurately. A lot of the times when you watch an ad and think, “Why do they keep doing this, I hate this!” the marketer hates it too, but knows it gets your attention. And they’re always innovating new ways to get your attention, whether by illiciting pleasure or even hate.

‘RATIONAL’ AND ‘EFFICIENT’ THINKING

Both are in quotations because neither of them are always rational nor efficient.

Rational and efficient thinking is when someone attempts to scrutinize an issue under the lens of a purely scientific or detached approach without recourse to certain emotional or even social needs. It is in one sense the building of a specific, data-dictated box, with the lack of desire of including the boxes of social cohesion. This thinking is rarely aberrant but can technically get so: A Modest Proposal presents a technically logically sound, efficient, and rational solution to the poverty problem in Ireland, as long you’re okay with eating babies.

The extremes of creative thinking and the extremes of rational(ist) thinking is the huge argument between artists being ‘emotional’ and scientists being ‘cold’, and in between lies innovative thinking. All of them cannot exist without a foundation in critical thinking, and are all beholden to cognitive bias and social normative thinking.

Thinking outside the boxes of critical, creative, innovative, or rational thinking is rare, often aberrant, rarely useful, and in most cases is just you being a dick.

—PolarisDiB

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

Alright.

So now that I"ve gone and spent all that time writing all that shit that many of you guys are probably just going to argue against definitions or claim I’m altogether narrow-minded, I can actually answer the question,

“Why Do People Have Trouble Thinking Outside the Box?”

Out-of-the-box thinking isn’t really rare, it’s just filtered through many levels of discourse and social debate until it is presented in something socially coherent, which makes it resemble the box. The further away from social coherency you go, the smaller your audience. End of story.

Most people think that they’re an exceptional individual, and that their thinking is not determined by groupthink or in-group/out-group conflict or social normative thinking. To me it becomes a matter of specialization: there are very specific areas people apply their thinking to, and in order to do so they have to fall back on social normative thinking to cover the areas they do not specialize in. This is not a bad thing it’s just an unfortunate side-effect of having a limited brain and subjective perspective. We just cannot know everything, period. So we focus. Typically the type of creative, innovative, or rational thinking that ends up standing out and gaining widespread praise (‘fame’) or return on investment (‘fortune’) is as much a factor of cultural and historical circumstance, as it is genuinely exceptional. Most people do productive work in very small ways, while others affect the world in very big ways. Hence

“And is There a Way to Help People Get Out of the Box?”

Like The Incredibles sez, if everybody is special, no one is.

It’s not really an issue of they’re not getting out of the box, it’s an issue of even if they did, then that would be the new box. In general we’ve established over millennia of human civilization and social development that the best thing we can do is attempt to maintain an educated base of critical thinkers in the hopes that some of them will have the right idea at the right point to influence the world in a big way, and that the remainder at least don’t devolve into aberrant behavior.

The question of ‘how’ is the very foundation of social organization and political debate.

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

over 1 year ago

@Night

Is ‘thinking outside the box’ only admirable or applicable if it’s something we agree upon, something that suits our own principles and sensibilities?

Are you implying that our judgments of outside-the-box thinking depend on whether such thinking lines up with our principles and sensibilities? I tend to think that’s not the case (although, maybe you could give a specific example of what you have in mind). To me, people often oppose thoughts and actions that occur outside the box because a) it goes against the accepted way of doing things; b) change is scary—primarily because there is a lot of uncertainty attached; for example, individuals don’t know if they will like or be competent in the new way; the new way might fail.

But being a ‘functioning’ member of society means being part of ‘groupthink’ culture- democracy, committees, majority-based decision making and all that good stuff (the Teacher’s Union was a good example). In this culture we are concerned with leadership, rank-n-file and the roles each person plays within a group.

Groupthink is probably related to being trapped in the box, but I think it can happen with individuals working independently as well. For example, let’s say your a solo classical pianist. In the process of becoming a solo pianist, you learn about the “right” and “wrong” ways to play. These ideas form the “box” and it can be difficult to break out of.

Thinking outside the box is NOT difficult, but one needs the power of persuasion to convince others of the benefits by going in that opposite direction. Thinking outside the box may solve a problem, but how would it impact other factors involved? Is it PC? Is it cost-effective? Is it worth the risk financially, politically? Will it erode civil liberties? How is ACLU/ Wall Street/ Media going to react?

But these uncertainties make thinking out of the box difficult—certainly difficult to getting many people to embrace. I’d add a few other key uncertainties: will the solution work? (If the solution doesn’t work, not only will you have consumed time and energy, but you can look like a fool!) how will relationships and power shift in the changes are made? These are major uncertainties and people rather not have to work through them.

Besides these reasons, I think thinking outside of the box is difficult because you have to generate ideas either no one else has had and/or you need the confidence to stand by these ideas alone. “The-way-we’ve-always-done-it” thinking is easier because other people affirm and support this thinking. When you come up with an “outside-of-the-box” idea, you’re often standing alone—with no one to support you. Moreover, one needs to differentiate the ends from means and that from the means. I tend to think people can have trouble focusing the ends (hence, the need for a leader to help keep people focused on this) and prefer focusing and holding on to the means, maybe because it is more concrete.

You know who thrive professionally without having to ‘think outside the box’? Critics

To be fair, a lot of people are able to thrive without having to think outside the box.

@Arlene

As I said, sheeple. Here’s a no brainer…why not just think for yourself, be your own person and what makes you happy. I guess since that just is good and plain common sense which can be utilized and put into one’s life throughout man’s existence on earth….

Maybe I’m wrong, but I get the sense you’re mostly thinking about individuals living their everyday lives—relating to fashion, tastes in music, movies, etc. In other words, you’re thinking of “the box” as social trends. Here, the reason for staying in the box is fear of what others will think, peer pressure, perhaps. I’m not really thinking of the “box” in that fashion.

The box I’m thinking of involves the norms in an organization or a profession. It could be a church, a hospital, the legal system, a police department, football coaches, etc. When one becomes a part of these organizations, one learns how to do things the right way, while learning how to avoid the wrong ways. That’s basically the box. In this way, thinking inside the box can be a good thing—as long as it helps achieve the objectives of the organization or profession. The problem occurs when the “box” no longer works so well. It’s also problematic if it prevents individuals from finding more effective ways of operating.

In this type of situation, getting out to the box isn’t just a matter of thinking for one’s self, although that is a related part of it; and I don’t think it’s easy to get out of the box.

NIGHTSH​IFT

over 1 year ago

@JAZZ “Are you implying that our judgments of outside-the-box thinking depend on whether such thinking lines up with our principles and sensibilities?”

It’s a big factor, that’s what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned community meetings. Personal biases are difficult to ignore, so even approving an obviously sound solution to a problem can be problematic if it goes against the grain of one’s certain political viewpoint.
A good example of this is a brainstorming conference on issues dealing with urban homeless transients- often the best solution is the least popular, but thinking outside the normal comfort zones also dictates that such unusual, untried ideas must be worth the risk.

“But these uncertainties make thinking out of the box difficult—certainly difficult to getting many people to embrace.”

Exactly my point, which is why folks are content to just keep doing the same things. As the saying goes ’Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken’. A good leader/ manager has the power and authority to challenge that kind of thinking.

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

" For example, let’s say your a solo classical pianist. In the process of becoming a solo pianist, you learn about the “right” and “wrong” ways to play. These ideas form the “box” and it can be difficult to break out of."

This is one of the longest running debates in liberal arts colleges. People have this gut-reaction against learning the rules because they don’t want to be boxed into them.

I think it’s bollocks. The people who don’t know the rules don’t make good art most of the time, and those who do tend to have internalized the rules naturally without instruction as opposed to just being taught them — that is to say, once they’ve sat down to be taught the rules, they’ve found they followed them anyway.

The best art seems, to me, to come from those who were taught the rules and learned where and how to break them. And that’s not so unusual.

Many people try to compose piano symphonies without knowing how to play the piano. They fail because the result is awful.

—PolarisDiB

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

Actually, all of the above is misdirection.

The problem is that they’re not ‘rules’. They’re guidelines. They’re offered up as historical development of language. That is to say, you can use whatever words you desire in whatever sentence you want to express whatever idea you like, but if they don’t follow either grammatical and usage rules or at least refer to those rules when and where they break them, you’re speaking nonsense. The rules of grammar do not limit the diversity of ideas you can have, insofar as the diversity of thoughts and perspectives are limited by language itself which is a much more complicated and broader thing than your ability to write a fuckin’ book.

—PolarisDiB

Arlene Weiss

over 1 year ago

@ Jazzaloha said @Arlene

“As I said, sheeple. Here’s a no brainer…why not just think for yourself, be your own person and what makes you happy. I guess since that just is good and plain common sense which can be utilized and put into one’s life throughout man’s existence on earth….

Maybe I’m wrong, but I get the sense you’re mostly thinking about individuals living their everyday lives—relating to fashion, tastes in music, movies, etc. In other words, you’re thinking of “the box” as social trends. Here, the reason for staying in the box is fear of what others will think, peer pressure, perhaps. I’m not really thinking of the “box” in that fashion."

No, I did in fact mean how one conducts oneself in society, in life..not pop culture or fashion, but as a vital, valuable part of humankind. I CHOOSE to not be an uncivilized, anti-social, self entitled, drug or alcohol addled, apathetic, or violent idiot like the people I see every day around me, at work, in public places, in the news. From the time I was a child, I chose to NOT be a bully, but to be kind to others, to NOT buckle to peer pressure or be a part of it to be “cool” or “popular” ( and in my High school & my college the “In” people all did drugs, self destructed badly, or wound up in jail), I chose & continue to choose to live a life of integrity, of purpose, to be morally & socially responsible, compassionate & kind instead of being morally bankrupt which unfortunately, most of society & the human race has always been and seems much worse & is hellbent on obliterating itself.

captain

over 1 year ago

poorly edited, but still…….

Polaris​DiB

over 1 year ago

" most of society & the human race has always been and seems much worse & is hellbent on obliterating itself."

Actually we’re living in the best and most secure time in human history, with the most peace and lowest amounts of famine, disease, and suffering, than any other point in human history, with our primary end-times problem being the ability to actually sustain it environmentally.

But for some reason people get really offended by that fact. It doesn’t change that there are social ailments and various issues we must address, we can conceivably (and accessibly) make our world even better, so there’s no reason to ignore evil, war, poverty, and suffering when these are things that have possible solutions, but

to say the human race is bent on self-destruction is simply factually incorrect.

—PolarisDiB