Thinking outside of the box may have become a cliché, but that's because we've forgotten what it really signifies. Take a moment to visualize it. Can you see the box? It is defined, it provides boundaries.To think outside of the box, first the "box" must exist. You need something to push against. In other words, you need your constraints.
Here are examples from serious out of the box thinkers--Elon Musk, Charles Eames, Issey Miyake--on how to turn constraints into opportunities,e next time you bemoan them.
1. Define a game-changing constraint.
Sometimes a given constraint is so extraordinary that it becomes an incredible game changer.
If you are reading Elon Musk's biography like me these days, take note of the many constraints Musk puts in front of his team at SpaceX to arrive at extraordinary solutions that are changing the space industry.
My favorite anecdote is how his team invented a truster engine out of a mind-boggling single piece of metal (made with a 3-D printer) to outperform anything that is normally man-made in parts and welded together.
Next time you want to think out of the box and innovate disruptively, define the box in a radical, counter-intuitive and non-traditional way.
2. Instead of trying to bend the seemingly unbendable, find a way to bend with it.
Everything has constraints: materials, processes, people. Work with them.
Charles Eames, the industrial designer, was a master at working with constraints. His ground breaking work in plywood is a case in point. Imagine what plywood is. It is layers of thin wood, like a ream of paper. If you take a ream of paper and you want to curve it, you can only do it in one direction. It is the same with plywood, you can only bend it in one plane. That was Eames' constraint and chance to innovate. He realized this and then bent with it. His plywood furniture is a testimony to his genius.
"I have never been forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints." -Charles Eames
Like the zen master, who works with the stones in the zen garden, work with the stones and make them part of your solution.
3. Turn an annoyance into an advantage.
When Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake was asked to design a travel collection in the 1970s, he didn't know that the project would come to define his work. As a first step, he defined his box by asking what happens to your clothes when you pack them? The answer--they wrinkle. That became his key constraint. So how did he push against that? Instead of working against wrinkles, Miyake turned them into intentionally designed pleats and came up with what is now a big part of his brand, Pleats Please. He saw an opportunity in an annoyance and turned it into a world renowned brand.
So next time you have an annoying constraint, think how you can make it your biggest advantage.
4. Constrain yourself to one basic criteria.
Sometimes the most liberating thing is to be restrained to one medium.
Look at Twitter and its 140 characters. Painter Chuck Close's pixel paintings, now a beautiful part of New York's 2nd Avenue Subway. How Sean Kenny creates art using lego blocks. Real Simple's 3 ingredient recipes. Bach's Goldberg Variations, which are 30 variations on one aria. Japanese haiku, poems with only 3 lines, including one of my favorites here:
First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father's face.
- Murakami Kijo
Define a singular focus, intentionally limit your resources, and give yourself tunnel vision, within which to explore the maximum number of variations, ideas, designs. Sometimes being constrained is exactly what you need to think without limits.
Maybe because I grew up in the Turkish culture, I am determined to see a silver lining in any situation. I love using constraints as a tool to think differently. How about you? I would love to hear from you about how you think outside of the box and turn constraints into opportunities in your life and at work.
Design the life you love!