Inside the Box: A book review by Bob Morris

Inside the BoxInside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results
Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg
Simon & Schuster (2013)

How and why innovation happens “better and quicker when you work inside the box”

Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg must be courageous fellows because, in this remarkably entertaining as well as informative book, they discuss one of the most controversial business topics: the box metaphor. All manner of questions are evoked. For example, if problems are inside the box, can they be solved by thinking there or must one get outside of the box in order to think through a solution there? If a team is involved, must all of them remain or get out of the box, together…en masse, to solve the given problem? What if the problem in the box is solved outside the box and then, by then, has become a different problem? Then what?

Boyd and Goldenberg suggest five templates that “keep showing up as keys to innovation. The more you learn about this approach, the more ways you will start to see the five techniques being applied to solve tough problems and create all sorts of breakthroughs.” As with any such approaches or techniques or methodologies, however, they must be modified to accommodate the given needs, interests, resources, and strategic objectives of the given organization. Boyd and Goldenberg would be among the first to insist that it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply, immediately, all of their recommendations.

The five are best revealed and explained within the narrative, in context, but I feel comfortable when suggesting that they are fundamentally sound and evidence-driven, based on lessons learned from real people in real organizations, and relevant to almost any enterprise, whatever its size and nature may be.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also shared to suggest the scope of this book’s coverage:

o A Method to Innovate (Pages 2-6)
o How Brainstorming Produced Fewer and Lower-Quality Ideas (30-32)
o An Experiment in Innovation (Drew’s Story) (38-45)
o Look for Replacements “Right Under Your Nose” (50-54)
o How to Use Subtraction, and, Common Pitfalls in Using Subtraction (66-69)
o Division: Functional, Physical, and Preserving (75-79
o Experience Is the Best Teacher (Drew’s Story) (80-85)
o How to Use Division, and, Common Pitfalls in Using Division (95-96)
o How the Multiplication Technique Works (104-106)
o How to Use Multiplication, and, Common Pitfalls in Using Multiplication (123-128)
o Three Ways to Apply Task Unification (136-143)
o How to Use Unification, and, Common Pitfalls in Unification (156-158)
o Candle in the Wind (167-170)
o How to Use Attribute Dependency, and, Common Pitfalls in Attribute Dependency (179-188)
o The “No Compromise!” Rule in Creative Problem Solving (216-219)

Within the last several years, I have probably read and reviewed more than one hundred books that discuss one or more aspects of creativity. Opinions are divided — sometimes sharply divided — among authorities in terms of what creativity is and isn’t, how ideas can be generated, within which workplace environment creative thinking is most likely to thrive, whether or not it is better to solve problems inside or outside “box,” whether or not there is a box, etc.

Is the five-dimensional approach that Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg propose the best? For some who adopt and adapt it, yes, but the more important point is that any methodology is better than having none. Moreover, selecting a specific methodology is much less important than the nature and extent of commitment to making it effective throughout the given enterprise, at all levels and in all areas. I agree that if we don’t know where we’re going, any road will take us there. If we have no methodology or have insufficient commitment to the one we have, our organization’s stagnation, deterioration, and eventual demise are inevitable.

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1 Comment

  1. Randy Mayeux on August 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

    This made me think of one of the points Twyla Tharp made in The Creative Habit. She wrote:

    “Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box…
    One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box.”

    She literally creates/gathers a big box (a file box/banker’s box) full of materials, ideas, articles, art work — puts it in the box — for each new dance she creates. When her box is “full enough,” and she is “ready,” she then dumps the box out on the floor of a dance studio room, sits in the middle of all that “stuff” form inside the box, and goes to work thinking and planning. She starts “inside the box.”

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