think about the box

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

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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?