Connected Career Women Series

How To Think Outside The Box

We have all heard this before: “Think out of the box! Come up with something new!”... Simple enough, right? Not so fast. Thinking out of the box is easier said than done. What is the box actually? How do you know if your thinking is inside, or outside of it? This article attempts to both answer such questions, as well as propose some “out-of-the-box” ideas for disrupting your thinking patterns and making room for some fresh, new thoughts. Such thinking is literally child’s play. So read on to find out how to get in touch with your inner child.

About a year ago, my son had a birthday party.

I picked him up at the end of the party, and as we were driving back home down one of Kigali’s many steep hills, my brakes were failing.

The car was picking up speed from the gravity and I tried frantically to use both the regular brake as well as the hand brake. Nothing worked.

I looked over at my son in despair and he quietly told me to turn off the engine by removing the key from the ignition. I did what he said and maneuvered the car into a bus stop, and it rolled to a stop just at the end of the bus stop. We both caught our breath and let out sighs of relief.

I wondered out loud, why had I not thought of that option? I had thought of only two options: the regular brake and the hand brake as any driver would. My son – who was nine at the time – had thought of an option I had not even considered.

I had been thinking inside of the box. Luckily, I had an expert with me in ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking: a child.

Out-of-the-box thinking: A definition

According to, “out-of-the-box thinking” is defined as:

Idea generation or problem solving that is not constrained by self-imposed limits or conventional barriers. Being free or breakthrough thinking, it creates new paradigms and explores non-logical and uncommon ways and solutions.”

Thinking that is “inside of the box” is constrained by limits and beliefs, and therefore does not consider or even generate many viable or different options. This is often a problem many “experts” face, as they base their assessments of problems on previous experiences they have had.

Sometimes such thought patterns are so rigid, that it is hard for them to come up with completely novel solutions or processes. I am a very experienced driver and have always (until that day) been able to stop a car with either the regular brake or the hand brake, and had not really considered having to resort to unconventional ways of stopping a car in an emergency.

In fact, the antidote to ‘inside of the box’ thinking is looking at a situation or problem as if for the first time. It is all about letting go of experience, rigid thought patterns and old habits, to face a situation with a fresh perspective, a new angle, or through a child’s eyes.


If you have only lived in one country, it seems that everything you encounter is all fixed and you don’t even question it.

Once you start traveling to other countries or even migrating, you realize how different everything can be in these other countries – from the public transportation, the health care system, the language, to the sense of humor, or just the experience of walking in the street and either blending in or standing out… all such experiences can be humbling in and of themselves, but they also open the mind to other ways of looking at the world.

They show you how much of your day-to-day reality is actually a social construct – an agreed upon convention that people who have grown up in that system do not even question but accept as part of the reality they live in.

Traveling will literally turn your world upside down, but it comes with an advantage: a newfound ability to understand that limits, processes, systems, norms, customs, and so on, are social constructs.

These constructs are often self-imposed, whether by an individual or a society. Realizing this will set the stage for you to think outside of the box.

Rest, or ‘down-time

Besides the advantage of travel as a way of peeking under the hood of social constructs in different cultures, there is also the aspect of a change of scenery, relaxation, and ‘downtime’ that comes with going on a holiday.

However, you do not necessarily need to go on a holiday to tap into the powerful effect of rest and of nature. You can integrate such moments into the every day. 

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind


For example, there are different ways of being productive at work.

For repetitive work it serves to put in hours of concentrated, focused work. For creative tasks, for advanced critical thinking and problem solving, putting in more hours of concentrated work is not necessarily the solution. In fact, that does not seem to work well at all.

Do you wonder why you always get such great ideas under the shower or as you go for an evening stroll? For associative, ‘free-thinking’, the mind needs some rest, some time to wander or to connect with nature.

‘Out-of-the-box’ thinking might actually work better out of the office, come to think of it.

Some offices offer other activities, yoga or meditation or chair massages. In fact, the first company I worked for offered chair massages and tai chi – activities I eagerly participated in. It was not just a way of attracting the best talent, but also a way of increasing productivity in non-repetitive and sophisticated professional tasks.

Recent findings from an experiment at Microsoft in Japan, show 40% more productivity in a 4-day workweek. This leads us to think that more hours do not necessarily make for more productivity.

The same can be said for creativity. More hours are also likely to make you less creative. The longer the work day, the less time there is for much needed rest and sleep.

When we take care of ourselves, we are more effective, we are more creative, and we are more successful in a broad definition of the word.”

Arianna Huffington
Creative expression

Have you ever been to workshops, the ones with colored pencils, stickers, and game-like activities?

Yes, they are a lot of fun. But unless the purpose is team building, these items are not just there for you to enjoy yourselves. These crayons, colored papers, and all other fun stuff are there for you to get your creative juices flowing. They are there as a speedway to take you quickly and effectively out of your proverbial box.

Think of the mind map. The mind map is not there to turn a software developer into Picasso, but it is there to help her come up with an innovative way to build the required functionality for a new app.

Whether you are just using such methods to trouble-shoot or brainstorm, or whether you are seriously involved in the arts, creative endeavors can get us to look at the world or at a specific problem through new eyes. 

Creativity is intelligence having fun!

Albert Einstein

If you have tried all of the above and you are still not getting anywhere near an exit out of that tired, old box… if all else fails, just go and ask the real expert: ask a child for advice!

Who knows, it might save your life.

If we experienced life through the eyes of a child, everything would be magical and extraordinary. Let our curiosity, adventure and wonder of life never end.”

Akiane Kramarik

Lucy Schalkwijk is a women’s empowerment champion, a connector and a skills development enthusiast. She is passionate about connecting and empowering women in the workplace and writes about careers, networking, women’s empowerment, and leadership.

Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: and +250783719431.

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