We are taught to think inside the box. Then we are taught to think outside the box. What I want us to ask is, Who put the box there? — Ellen Langer “On Becoming an Artist”, 2006
Lateral and divergent thinking foster the conditions that facilitate creativity, to be sure. But the old cliche of “thinking outside the box” is getting tired and I wonder if it doesn’t need some rest. Besides, can you ever truly think outside the box?
Wouldn’t it be more productive to think differently about the box — to acknowledge but query the constraints? Take an ecological perspective — think about the role we play in creating and defining those constraints, both for ourselves and for others.
In “Developing Leaders for a World of Uncertainty (Rotman Magazine, Fall 2010), Andrew Day and Kevin Power explore Ecological vs. Analytical Thinking:
- Ecological thinking looks for patterns and interdependencies, while analytical thinking values historical data and analysis and identifies problems and solutions.
- Ecological thinking assumes complex, non-linear relationships as opposed to analytical thinking, which assumes cause, effect and linear relationships.
- The focus in on description rather than explanation with ecological thinking. Analytical thinking reduces the phenomena down to individual issues.
- Ecological thinking values curiosity, insight and intuition while analytical thinking seeks to restore or improve on the status quo.
- Ecological thinking works creatively with paradox, uncertainty and contradiction, while analytical thinking seeks certainty and stability.
- With ecological thinking, the focus is on WHAT, while the analytical perspective is focused on WHY.
I think that the ecological approach is one that offers our students greater opportunities to develop the skills and mindset necessary to thrive in our complex world. What about you?