In today’s warp-speed, innovation-driven economy, it is a little surprising how regularly one still hears that well-worn cliché, “We have to think outside the box!”

Or, perhaps not. With so much strain on organizations to create ever better, sooner, more efficient, more economical products and services, possibly that elusive area beyond the box is simply that much more elusive.

Regardless of the case, these words, or variations with similar meaning, still echo the hallways in organizations of every size, in every area of business, education and government, and at every level of responsibility.

If you happen to have asked what makes it so difficult for these organizations to “think outside the box,” chances are high that you’d get an earful about how impossibly difficult it is for individuals to just sit down together and effectively develop fresh, new ideas.

The typical list of roadblocks ranges from “We just keep recycling similar old ideas,” “We’ve tried everything before” and “We don’t have the __________ we require to succeed” to “It’s impossible to make daring alterations here” and “The boss/our customer will never go for it!”

As one listens to the litany of obstacles, one can’t help but imagine that significantly more creative effort is being exerted in reinforcing limitations than in actually looking for innovative solutions.

So what really is the big disadvantage? What core concern underlies the multitude of “good reasons” organizations have so much difficulty thinking like Google or Apple?

Merely, what we believe-pre-existing assumptions.

It’s our assumptions (our firmly held beliefs about what is or is not attainable…what can or can’t be performed or achieved) that makes up “the box” that restrains our consciousness and limits our thinking. When perceived limitations loom larger than perceived possibilities, we diminish our potential to unravel challenges creatively. Briefly, we stop being innovators.

Henry Ford, a legendary out-the-box thinker, stated it best, “If you think you can do a thing, or can’t do a thing, you are right!” He understood that every self-imposed limitation we think about or verbalize (and we all have plenty of assumptions about a variety of things) creates a mental barrier that separates us from limitless possibility.

When we merely accept any constraint on what is possible, we trade curiosity for caution, and seek answers in the familiar, rather than venturing boldly into the unknown. Caution and familiarity are hardly catalysts for innovation.

After we free ourselves from our assumptions, our curiosity flows; we’re abruptly in a position to explore, make new connections and envision new possibilities that lead to unique solutions.

We are able to answer the question, “What if…?”

The first step towards liberating yourself and others from restricted, boxed-in thinking is to summon the valor to determine and challenge your existing assumptions.

How to successfully challenge assumptions

1. Make an inventory of any assumption or limiting belief you or your group could have regarding the issue you are attempting to solve.

Be honest-and as thorough as possible. Actually dig deep to uncover what you assume to be true. Bear in mind, assumptions typically masquerade in the guise of common knowledge, accepted practices and protocols, facts, and even proud tradition. We even harbor assumptions about the way things are, or ought to to be.

2. Challenge the status quo.

Right here’s another inside tip: the more “indisputable” a belief, accepted truth or fact seems, the more essential it is to challenge it!  Challenging the status quo creates a rich atmosphere for the seeds of innovation to flourish.

3. Take each item on your list and ask these 3 questions:

“Is this ______(limitation/assumption)_____ true?” (Yes/No)”Is it completely true, all the time, without exception?” (Yes/No)”If it’s not absolutely true, what are the possibilities?”Make this “reality check” technique for questioning assumptions an everyday part of your brainstorming or idea-generation process. You may be amazed to find that the majority, if not all, perceived limitations will quickly dissolve under the analysis of objective discernment.

As every limiting belief falls away, more and more new blue-sky possibilities will start to emerge. Before you know it, that proverbial box that once restrained your imagination will have disappeared.

SmartStorming (R) partners, Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer help organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways than they ever imagined possible – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, creative brainstorming techniques , and a variety of proven tools organizations need to think more creatively, change behaviors and generate the kinds of ground-breaking ideas that drive innovation. To learn more about SmartStorming, visit their blog at
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