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Thinking outside the box


I am looking for a 30 min exercise to deliver to 25 people. The objective is to enourage 'Thinking outside the box'. This exercise is to demonstrate how there are more than one way to a solution.
Jane Hanratty

13 Responses

  1. Cut the cake!
    Try breaking them into 3 groups and giving them a cake per group. They are to cut the cake into 8 pieces using just 3 cuts of a knife (you have to give them the knife too!)

    There is more than one way to do this, hence the lesson is learned. If you do this just before a break they will also have a piece of cake each to have with their tea/coffee.

  2. Arian Associates Ltd
    We use a couple of really good fun type exercises – if you email us we will reply with copies attached
    One called ‘Who Goes to the Bull?’ the other is a ‘Join the Dots’ exercise.

  3. Try wikipedia
    Hi. I ran a similar session within a project management course & loads of materials in wikipedia – eg refs. to de Bono’s work and both written & visual materials which went down very well. Happy to send you the word docs. Regards, Mark

  4. cakes
    Hi Claire
    It’s probably because this is the end of a very stressful day, but I can’t think of a way to cut a cake into 8 with three cuts! Can you post the answer? Or email me? I think it’s a great exercise.

  5. cut the cake…
    One answer…
    through the diameter….
    turn 90 degrees – cut again through the diameter
    then cut through the horizontal

    thus cutting 4 into 8 pieces…

    But for real out of the box thinking – consider the environment – work in a room they were not expecting – or even out in the street – or if that is ‘too out of the box’ change the room layout from what they are used to to something they would not expect… the environment and our approach/ behaviours go a long way to generating ‘out of the box’ thinking

  6. This is a goodie
    Although 1 – 2 hours tends to get more spectacular results – I think it might work in 30 minutes.

    Based on that internet trading thing – what can you trade a paperclip for? A guy made a series of upward trades from a paperclip to a year’s lease on a fabulous house.

    Anyway – split the group into teams (5 x 5) give them a paperclip (a nice coloured or stripey one) and tell them they have to use their existing contacts, powers of persuasion and mobiles to trade up as often as they can for an item of higher value each time.

    My friend did this recently (2 hours) and went paperclip – bottle of wine (£12) – 2 x bottle of port ………….. racehorse!!!

    Be interested to hear how it goes if you use it.

  7. and to finish off……
    You could tell them the story about how, when the space race was hotting up between the USA and the USSR, NASA spent a fortune inventing, designing and producing a pen that would write in zero gravity. They did manage it, and it also had a little commercial success. The USSR’s solution to the problem was to use a pencil.

    This and many more stories, anecdotes for use in development sessions can be found at

  8. oh no they didn’t, (apparently)!
    according to Mr S Fry and the QI elves this is an urban myth…pencils were banned on space flights because broken leads and shavings will float around in zero-g creating a hazard. Besides which a normal 16p biro will work in no gravity.

  9. How many uses?
    Hi Jane

    Split into 5 teams of 5. Give each team an everyday object. The winner is the team that comes up with the most uses for their object.


  10. Book rec. and giraffes, elephants, crocs and fridges

    A source of information you may find useful, and will extend on for Mike’s comments early is a interesting book called ‘Did you spot the Gorilla – How to recognise hidden opportunities in your life’ by Richard Wiseman

    It’s quite an interesting read, and some of the exercises can be tailored into a training exercise very easily…

    Also, the small exercise below is quite natty to get people to open up a discussion as to how we think etc etc

    Enjoy – Rob


    Ask the delegates to answer the following questions on paper, reviewing the answers to each question before moving on to ask the next question

    QUESTION 1: How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

    ANSWER: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door

    This question tests whether they tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way

    QUESTION 2 How would they put an elephant into a refrigerator?

    WRONG ANSWER: Open the refrigerator then put in the elephant and close the door

    CORRECT ANSWER: Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door

    This tests their ability to think through the repercussions of their actions

    QUESTION 3: The Lion King is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend except one. Which animal did not attend?

    ANSWER: The elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator

    This tests their memory

    OK, even if they did not answer the first three questions correctly, they still have one more chance to show their abilities…

    QUESTION 4: There is a river they must cross but it is inhabited by crocodiles. How would they manage it?

    ANSWER: They swim across. All the crocodiles are attending the animal conference

    This tests whether they learn quickly from their mistakes

  11. Four exercises to think outside the box.
    Hi Jane
    here’s four that I’ve used:

    Exercise 1
    Imagine a creature living on another planet. In fact, this planet isn’t even in our solar system. It might be an imaginary planet, so it’s very different from earth. What kind of animal might live on such a planet with an atmosphere so different from ours?

    Draw your creature. (Give them two or three minutes.)

    When they’re done, ask several people to show their creatures and describe them to the group. After hearing about four or five, ask the group,

    “How many of you drew creatures that had two eyes?”

    “With four legs or appendages?”

    “With bilateral symmetry, like humans and animals on earth?”

    Most people draw creatures with two eyes, four appendages and bilateral symmetry, even though they’re free to think up anything.
    The point is, of course, that we use the patterns in our minds that define “animal” to us.
    In most groups, a few people will break those patterns and come up with completely new patterns. Seeing that “out-of-the-box” thinking frees up the other members of the group to begin thinking in new ways.

    This exercise demonstrates how easy it is to feel creative without really breaking pre-existing patterns.

    Exercise 2 – a variant of an Edward de Bono technique.

    Give people a list of eight tangible nouns (vase, baby, etc.) and ask them to divide the words into two groups (without giving them a basis for the division).

    Everyone can do this, and some can even come up with more than one way to group the nouns (they get very “creative” with this task, thinking up things like “Words with the letter u, and words without the letter u,” or “things that hold water and things that don’t,” etc.).

    After letting several people or groups explain their connections, you reveal that actually there is no real link …

    The point is that our brains are incredible pattern-making and pattern-recognizing mechanisms. No one ever says, “There’s no connection,” because it’s almost inconceivable to us that there wouldn’t be.
    Source: Exercises for Stimulating Out-of-the Box Thinking , Sheila Campbell

    Exercise 3

    Show this symbol: IX

    Task: find at least 3 or 4 ways to add one line and make a 6.

    There over a dozen ways of doing this.

    Innovation: How to Make Innovation a Way of Life and Put Creative Solutions to Work. London: Pitman Publishing: 146-55.

    Exercise 4

    How many different fish can you name? What is your estimate certainty?

    Without thinking give me a target you think you can reach. – typically 10-20 with high % certainty

    Usually they underestimate and everyone beats their targets

    Point: Limited beliefs about your ability keep you in the box.



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