How many times have you been asked to think outside the box?

This post is sponsored by Kadence

The term creativity is often misunderstood. It can be seen by some as a trait that only “artistic” people possess – and not something that can improve over time. While it is true that some people perhaps have a more natural leaning towards creative outputs (and why we employee dedicated designers to help with the visual appeal of our output), at its root, thinking creatively is of vital importance for the growth of a business.

If you have not read Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity, Inc – Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – I would highly recommend it.

Firstly, it is a fascinating story about how a person who dreamed of becoming an animator, but could not draw, ends up as the president of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar! However, more importantly is that Catmull brings forward usable and relatable stories of how they could foster an environment of creative thinking “for me, creativity includes problem-solving. That’s the broad definition of it”.

While it may be easy to associate creativity with a movie studio – much of the lessons learned are hugely practical for any business (or team within a business) that are tasked to think outside the box to solve a problem.

For me, the largest problem with the term “thinking outside the box” is that it is a cliché, with no clear meaning or benefit derived from doing so. Sometimes, thinking “within the box” is effective. By the purest definition, it was “thinking inside” that got you to where you are today. “The box” is often a negative, the norm, staying with what you know, how a company operates, and there is often nothing wrong with optimising this as a starting point.

However, there does come a time where you need to look for new ideas and inspiration. You could Google “how to think outside the box”, but there are many, many results that come up – and while some claim to give you advice (Forbes, for example) it is not as easy as that to implement. That is where research companies can play a pivotal role ... not just by collecting data, but by helping you think about a problem differently – creatively!

At Kadence, we look to help companies to make sure they are focused on the impact that research can have – and we work creatively to be able to do that. Our starting point is always making sure we are thinking about the business goal.

A great example of this (and an interesting read regardless) is in HBR’s article on “Are you solving the right problems”. The author describes framing a problem: an elevator being too slow in an office building – with disgruntled tenants – with the list of potential solutions geared up around making it faster (new lift shaft, upgraded motors, change algorithms, etc).

However, the problem is really that “the wait for the elevator is annoying”. This then presents a much different list of potential solutions (provide entertainment, TV screens, mirrors to check appearance, etc) – all of which are much cheaper than the construction of a new lift shaft!

This correct framing of the problem brings us back to creativity as a tool. If we are tasked with thinking “creatively” about a problem, how do we do so. Particularly, if we have been “in the box” for a long time. The rest of the HBR article continues with suggested ways of reframing the problem, but at Kadence – we go searching outside the box!

We use a term called “spheres of influence” to assess what are the associated, but distinct industries, or experts that might be able to give an opinion on the problem or potential solution. We draw this up with our clients, then we go looking for our creative solutions. For example, when working with an airline, whose goal it is to create the best in-flight experience possible, we would create a map of the “spheres”.


By looking at the spheres of influence on a brand, and by speaking to people who have a viewpoint on this (for example, for an airline, understanding views on what makes best in class bedding or a best in class luxury seat, etc) we can reframe the problems creatively and therefore focus our proposed solutions on something that is likely to be more relevant.

As a first step, you could always look to assess how creative you, or your teams are. There is a test called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (which we recently carried out on our team in Kadence) that allows you to assess how creative individuals are. If you do find that you or your team score low on this, don’t fret. Either give Catmull’s book a read …. or simply get in touch with Kadence*

*Ideally you should do both.

The writer is Philip Steggals, managing director, Kadence International.