To be creative and innovative you need to be disruptive, you need to think differently, you need to “think outside the box!” But what does “think outside the box” really mean?
“Think outside the box” is something people say so often, and have said for so long, that it no longer has much meaning. it’s a catchphrase for creativity and innovation that (to use another cliche) goes in one ear and out the other.
But if you imagine a framework of ideas instead of just a box, then you’re getting somewhere. Different building frameworks supports different designs, and different frameworks of thinking support different ideas. To find creative ideas that are truly radical and innovative, your framework needs to be radical as well.
How to Build a Better Building
Most of the major breakthroughs in architectural design did not come from architects fiddling with minor design details in their sketchbook. Instead, major innovations in architectural design came from innovations in the structural technology that held buildings up.
Stone construction made the pyramids and the Parthenon possible. Roman arches and concrete made aqueducts and domed buildings possible. The pointed arch made light-filled Gothic cathedrals possible. Steel and reinforced concrete made sleek curtain-wall skyscrapers possible.
To find truly creative ideas, you have to look beyond the structure of how everyone else already thinks. You have to be willing to question the unquestionable. You have to go back to basics and question the underlying assumptions that led to the current confining framework of thinking.
In the 1970s many major technology companies assumed that regular consumers wouldn’t want and didn’t need personal computers. These old companies were held back by a limited framework, and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates proved them wrong with a new framework that could support the new ideas of personal computing.
Isaac Newton’s Alchemy
Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the creator of the idea of flow productivity, says in one of his books that, “It is essential to have a ‘prepared mind,'” for creativity. In other words, you have to know the rules before you can break them. To find ways to break out of the current framework, often it’s best to find those little structural problems in the current framework that everyone says can’t be fixed. But instead of ignoring them, to find radical innovation, follow those problems backward until they lead to larger cracks in the framework.
People often wonder about Isaac Newton’s obsession with theology and alchemy. How could this great man of science have followed such unenlightened obsessions? How could the creator of calculus and the theory of gravity follow a road to mysticism?
Most of the work leading to Newton’s theory of gravity had dready been done when he came along, but everyone else was trapped in a limiting framework. They thought that force could only be transferred with physical contact.