Four Key Steps For Thinking Outside The Box

We are all familiar with the cliché that originated in the 1970s, “think outside the box .” This phrase was used as a metaphor for creativity and took its hold in various disciplines such as marketing, management, psychology and personal improvement.

I often encounter clients who are told this phrase without any guidance on how to go about it. They are often told to just think differently, to think unconventionally, or to think from a new perspective. The individual more often than not walks away baffled and wondering how to actually think outside the box.

To think outside the box requires a process that begins with cultivating self-awareness. There are two assessments that can facilitate developing self-awareness — the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQi – 2.0), developed by Multi-Health Systems, Inc., a leading publisher of scientifically validated assessments for more than 30 years, and the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). Each of these assessments complements the other and helps uncover different aspects of yourself. The EQi – 2.0 explores 15 competencies while the MBTI gives you insights about yourself, how you interact with others, and preferences on addressing issues.

After completing the EQI – 2.0 assessment, you will learn what your strengths are and what needs further development. As an example, a CEO I was working with discovered from the assessment that because of his low self-confidence, his decision-making skills were low, which elevated his stress levels. Having this information allowed him to understand what minimized his self-confidence and kept him stuck in old patterns of thinking. Once he strengthened his self-confidence, he was more confident in making decisions and could address a problem from different perspectives.

MBTI assessments vary but help reveal where you focus your attention, how you take in information, the way you make decisions based upon that information, and how you approach the world. Your results are put on a graph to illuminate the degree of the MBTI dichotomies. With this self-awareness, you can then have greater insight into yourself and the challenges you face.

There are different steps that one can embark on to address how to think outside the box.

1. Identify your box.
The key to identifying your box is to know your perspectives and beliefs. A glimpse into yourself using the MBTI can reveal your expectations of others based on your personality type. For example, if you are highly independent and work well on your own and in a managerial role, your perception may be that your team can work independently. Once you have this awareness that you work best independently and others may not, you have identified one side of your box. Identifying your box is the first step out of it.
2. Define your box.
When defining your box, ask yourself these questions:
• Are you open-minded, fixed or closed-minded? When someone is fixed or closed-minded, it is hard for them to change their view in spite of the evidence to the contrary.
• Is change difficult for you, or can you adapt to change easily?
• Are you aware of your biases and beliefs that were likely shaped by early childhood experiences?
Exploring these questions and uncovering the answers helps you understand and define your box.
3. Know your biases and beliefs.
Biases and beliefs are how you perceive information. Psychologist Dr. Taibi Kahler defines six ways that you perceive the world:
• Thoughts
• Opinions
• Emotions
• Reflections
• Reactions (likes and dislikes)
• Actions
Through these lenses, you reinforce biases and beliefs that keep you stuck in your way of thinking. In other words, stuck in your box. We all have a tendency to perpetuate our biases and cloud our perceptions and preconceptions and reinforce them by researching information that supports our biases and beliefs rather than uncovering information that is contrary to our beliefs.
4. Collapsing the walls of your box.
Flexibility and adaptability are paramount in learning to appreciate individual differences. The emotional intelligence assessment can give you greater awareness in these areas.
Furthermore, flexibility increases your tolerance for stress. Being open to change and diversity allows you to move out of the parameters of your box into unchartered territory beyond your comfort zone.

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author permission.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

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  1. I used to say quite a big that when we think outside the box, we’re still thinking in a bigger box. Today, I just say this is what we want things to look like. What should we do first?

    Anytime I sense a box being used, I exaggerate the affects of the box by using a bizarre scenario. For instance when I talk about culture change, I frame all the culture pains as being intentional by this fictitious “boogie man organization”. Then I go into the sinister motives on why it’s purposely trying to distract us.

    A more down to earth example. When I’m in a coffee shop, and I need to get a way for a quick break, I ask the person behind me to watch my stuff. “Please can you watch this. This thing as a way of growing legs and running off. It’s a real pain to hunt down.”