Thinking Outside the Box – Enacting a Metaphor


I love thinking in rooms with high or raked ceilings. Thinking outdoors where the sky is the limit, or simply walking around.  So it is no surprise to me that thinking outside a box is a better option.

Metaphors are often used to helps us see and make connections. A prevalent idea has been that metaphors are strict linguistic devices. We simply call something by the naming it something that it is similar to.

We can describe, “Lisa is an ice-block” if there is similarities between Lisa and an ice-block, for example, both are cold.

But metaphors are more that nice phrases. They help us to examine and understand the world. We use metaphors to describe mostly abstract things in a systematic way.  Metaphors are unidirectional, and we can say, “ She is clean” to suggest that she has no criminal record. But we cannot say, “She is moral” to mean that she has had a shower.

So there may be something more going on and Lakoff and Johnson suggested that we think metaphorically. We think of morality as cleanliness and this idea comes from our observations and experiences. By constantly developing better metaphors our thinking has developed.

Metaphors can also be used inspire us to do something different. We are encouraged to think outside the box, this may help us to explore and examine a problem from a new angle. But in what ways does this metaphor help us? This metaphor suggests that there is a link between our body and our creativity. But is there more than a link in our minds?

  • What happens if we are actually sitting outside a real box?
  • Does enacting a metaphor change our behaviour?
  • Are our creative solving skills changed when we are sitting outside a box as compared to inside a box?

To test the idea that our thinking may change if we enact a metaphor, a group was given a 10-question word-association test designed to measure one kind of creativity. The test included sentences such as ‘What one word links “measure,” “worm,” “video”?’ As they answered, participants sat inside the box, sat outside of it, or sat in a room without any boxes. The people sitting outside the box answered more questions correctly. Walking outside a box was also a better option as compared to walking inside a box.

It seems like the very idea of being outside a box may help us to find creative solutions. Small boxes may make us feel trapped, which may influence and change our thinking. But what happens if you sit next to a box? Often our office and home environment are filled with different boxes such as cubicles, cabinets, and. . .

Look around, and you will most likely find many different boxes.

So were you sitting inside, beside or outside the box when you had that brilliant idea?

Photo: “Interior With Yellow Cubes” by sumetho

6 Replies to “Thinking Outside the Box – Enacting a Metaphor”

  1. Nice blog. I thought that “thinking outside the box” was a metaphoor, from the 9 dots problem, but it seems i have to take it litterally: going outside the house, the offfice.

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