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May,  2007
Volume III   Issue 5

"Think outside the box"
by Jack Miller

Think outside the box.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression, “Think outside the box.”

Many of you probably know that the expression comes from the nine-dot
puzzle: draw four continuous lines through the nine dots, without lifting your
pen or pencil from the paper, so that each of the nine dots has at least one
line running through it.

                        •     •     •
                        •     •     •
                        •     •     •

Did you assume that you could not go outside the nine dots? Did you not
even consider going outside the nine dots? The solution indeed requires
that you go “outside the box” defined by the nine dots.

Email if you need the solution.

Last month, we talked about strategic planning, and the idea behind the nine
dot problem is that sometimes you need to challenge your assumptions and
expand your boundaries.

For printers, this might mean offering services like fulfillment and data base
management. For paper companies, it might mean getting into the
distribution business. It might even mean getting rid of all that expensive,
heavy equipment that ties up your capital.  

What business are you in? What boundaries keep you in a business that is
not profitable? How can you tear down those boundaries? Perhaps they are
boundaries you’ve created yourself.

The solution to our nine dot puzzle requires something called lateral
thinking.  If you Google, you’ll find lots of intriguing puzzles that require
lateral thinking, but the point is clear: we tend to think in straight lines,
extrapolating from the past,  but to make real change we need to get away
from straight line thinking.

Boundaries and assumptions can be useful, as they help us focus our
thinking, eliminating distractions, but they can also be limiting. In the 80’s we
learned about this when we learned about paradigms. You may recall the
video by Joel Barker where we learned that Swiss watchmakers actually
invented the quartz watch. With no springs, the watch did not fit the
paradigm so they treated it as a curiosity, and displayed it at a trade show
without bothering to patent it. Texas Instruments, who had a different
paradigm, took one look, and as Joel Barker said, the rest is history. In the 90’
s, Michael Hammer and other lateral thinkers led us through re-engineering.
But the point is, by any name, real progress comes from breaking free of
boundaries that limit our thinking.

Returning to the 9 dot problem, if you’ve found the solution, you found it by
eliminating a boundary – a self imposed boundary. Now, can you solve it
with three lines? Here’s a clue: get rid of an assumption. A little re-
engineering might help.

Need help identifying and eliminating those self imposed boundaries? Need
help getting out of the box? Pira can help. Re-engineering isn't enough?
Perhaps Pira can help with Technology Mapping: think out of the box,
envision the future you want, and then identify the out-of-the-box
breakthroughs necessary to get you there.

For more information call Jack Miller at  203 925 0326 or  email

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Copyright 2007, Jack Miller

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