Too often we are told that we need to be creative problem solvers and “Think outside the box!”

And while I understand the concept, the problem with it from my perspective is that it assumes there are no constraints or parameters. And let’s face it…in business decisions there are ALWAYS constraints and parameters that impact the possibilities.

Instead…real creativity and problem solving happens within our ‘box.’  This box represents the parameters or constraints and our solution needs to be found within that box.

Here’s how to problem solve within your box:  Place the defined problem or decision needed in the middle of the box and then identify the four sides:

  1. Time/Schedule
  2. Resources – financial, people, etc.
  3. Participation – the mental bandwidth and energy you need from others involved
  4. Quality –  the qualitative expectation

Now identify the possibilities for solutions WITHIN those parameters.  They make up your box.

To keep the box square, if one of the sides of the box changes, the others must change as well!

An example of this concept in sales:

We sell training, consulting and HR services to businesses. A client asked for a proposal to solve their problem of building sales skills for their team to achieve a 20% growth. The solution we collaboratively identified had four parameters:

  1. a schedule for delivery
  2. resources of people and dollars
  3. a need for time for sales leaders to invest in coaching
  4. qualitative expectations for ROI

When reviewing the proposal, the decision team identified that the participation of the leaders needed to be reduced.  Could that be accommodated?

We drew a box on a whiteboard and together identified that if the managers did not have the time to do the coaching, we needed to change other parameters such as resources of dollars to deliver that very necessary component.  They didn’t want to edit the ROI or the schedule.

 It was decided that by adding 7% to the budget, we could provide field coaching for his average performers to help them build their personal results more quickly.

Without the box as a reference point and consideration, the discussion might have been much more difficult.

We regularly use the ‘box’ in our discussions and consulting.  It’s a powerful visual aid and very transparent that keeps us focused on collaborative selling.

You might use a four-sided or six-sided box depending on the parameters you need to consider. Your box might be big or it might be little, what matters is that you use it to ensure that you have a workable solution.

You can also use ‘inside the box problem solving’ for:

  • problem solving
  • brainstorming
  • looking at project delivery realistically
  • collaboration

Your true creativity will identify relevant and doable solutions.

What other applications do you see for the ‘box?’  Please leave a comment. Let’s build our ideas for ‘thinking inside the box!’