Innovative Thinking

Outside the Box

Posted by Randy Graves on April 9, 2018

I recently had the pleasure of watching the National Geographic Special Documentary Film on Jane Goodall. This is an outstanding film on an outstanding individual and for me was very thought provoking. Jane’s significant accomplishments are heralded in numerous publications from books, videos, to movies just to mention a few. Her initial work with Chimpanzees is her most significant and her initial scientific achievement despite having no formal training. When famed anthropologist Richard Leakey sent untrained Jane to Tanzania’s Gombe National Park in 1960 to study chimpanzees, I suspect he had no idea how her discoveries would set the world of anthropology on its ear.

It occurred to me that Jane’s lack of formal training was just the element that allowed her to think creatively in an unconstrained (outside the box) manner. Her self-developed observational skills were unconstrained by formal training orthodoxy and led her to develop new approaches to chimpanzee observation that led to truly insightful observations and new discoveries. The traditional (orthodox) view of chimpanzees was that they were far from being related to humans, but Jane’s work showed that chimpanzees are very close relatives of humans in behavior and social organization.

The issue of formal training and orthodox thinking is at the heart of inside the box thinking. By in large, formal training is based on centuries of slow evolutionary human thinking progress in that much of what colleges and universities teach is the collection of centuries worth of validated wisdom. Thus formalized training is the epitome of orthodox thinking or inside the box entrapment. As individuals obtain higher learning (masters and doctorate degrees) the narrower their world of thinking becomes. By the time a student obtains their Doctorate degree they become the highly orthodox in their thinking and have learned a broad spectrum of skills in a very narrow area. My observation may be a too broad stereotyping but is still largely accurate.

Because of the importance of innovation to societal progress, sustainability, economic growth, and the wealth of Nations, there is a movement today in academia towards creative design thinking with an emphasis on exploring solutions “outside the box.” This raises an important question: what “box” is your thinking in?

Society today is constantly bombarded with highly constraining orthodoxies by advocates wanting individuals to “think” their way. Nowhere is the orthodoxy more visible than in organized religions, political parties, governmental structures, etc. Beware . . . are you part of an organizational orthodoxy?

Imitate Goodall and take an unconstrained look at your world.

What do you think?