Inside the box


Why could 'inside the box thinking' be the best way to approach creativity? Dana Wolfsfeld has the answer.

I’m not afraid to admit that at certain points in my career I have gone to bed tirelessly thinking about a certain brief that I have struggled to crack for a client. I questioned if I was lacking that creative spark. I would be waiting for that ‘eureka’ moment when all the stars would align. The point where an idea would fit the brief and all marketing needs perfectly. There would also be times where I would wake up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea that at the time seemed flawless only to realise in the morning it most certainly was not.

The problem is we are fixated on effectively blending creative thinking with media execution. So, how do we as marketeers answer briefs to create award-winning ideas and where does this creativity come from? As part of my master’s degree I had a course on systematic creative thinking and was introduced to a theory by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg called “Inside the Box”. The idea is that there is a common misconception that creativity comes from thinking outside of the box – going further away from the core insights and base of the brief at hand to reach a unique idea. Outside the box thinking is so wild and innovative it has the ability to blow minds, win coveted awards and becomes unlike anything anyone has ever done or thought of before. In reality when an idea is so obscure it feels detached, irrelevant, confusing and unhelpful. An easy way to relate to this is through brainstorming sessions. We’ve all been in a situation where ideas are bounced off one another until you eventually find yourself forgetting the original purpose of the brainstorming (a pop-up store selling slime to promote dishwasher tablets? Of course!).

This alternative theory encourages people who want to come up with a solid, meaningful creative idea to limit themselves by thinking inside the box. Let’s think about action hero, MacGyver – how do I break out of this safe using a Q-tip, a belt and a can of paint? If MacGyver thought “well, if I only added a Helicopter to this equation, I’d be all set” he probably wouldn’t still be quoted today as a creative and resourceful mind. Instead, we should be thinking more basic questions like what resources do I have readily available? What are the brand’s core truths? Who are the target audience? What is the challenge that needs to be addressed? And so on. Therefore, that big idea sometimes means thinking simply, how can I, without adding additional elements to my problem, find a relevant and creative solution?

When responding to briefs we should also think about templates. These templates are simple thought processes that help us rethink a puzzle and look at it in a different way. If you’ve ever played word jumble, where you need to create words from a random set of letters, you know one of the most helpful ways to suddenly see new possible word outcomes is to re-shuffle the order of the letters. Templates have the same effect. So, if we were to remove elements for example, that would mean eliminating one core factor at hand from the solution. Traditional headphones with no wires become air buds, a phone with no dialling buttons become an iPhone. Re-inventing the wheel can lead to more problems, instead what if, like these examples, we could go back to basics.

The next time you find yourself stuck on a tricky brief, first of all I hope you’re not like me who has given up trying to overcome insomnia to dream about briefs and secondly, sometimes a truly creative and innovative approach is just about taking everything we already know and looking at it from a slightly different angle.

Looking for inspiration?

Sign up to keep updated by our thought leaders on brand growth and media trends.

Sign Up