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The Wisdom Approach on: Thinking out of the box, and why it isn’t necessary anymore

Abstract:

One key characteristic of the Wisdom Approach is the usage of fundamental constructs which I call “Wisdom elements”. These fundamental constructs are irrefutable and can be applied across multiple disciplines and fields. Some examples of these constructs are “friction”, “equilibrium”, “path dependency”, “motivation”, “intention”, “asymmetric information”, “incomplete information”.


When these constructs are used to properly build up the parameter set of the scenario to be analysed and understood, the parameter set of the scenario become fundamentally comprehensive and holistic, while being relevant and meaningful, at both the macro and micro level. Effectively, this would represent a fundamentally different way to conceptualize the parameters that define the scenario and result in a drastically changed “Box”.


“The Wisdom Approach allows for the forming of a box which is naturally driven by fundamental, irrefutable constructs, making the box much larger, flexible and dynamic, and always relevant and meaningful”.


Thus, the box becomes properly and fundamentally defined, and can finally serve the purpose which it was intended for, which is to channel thinking towards solutions that can be creative, relevant and meaningful as energy and effort are directed efficiently and effectively. This makes ideas outside the box unworkable and irrelevant, and thus unnecessary.


“You don’t need to think outside the box to get desired results. You need a box that is more accurately, holistically, relevant and meaningfully built. In other words, you need a bigger and better box”

 

Introduction

When I was teaching as an Adjunct Professor at the National University of Singapore[1], I used to ask my MSc and MBA students about whether they thought that “thinking out of the box is a good thing”. Almost everyone would agree that “thinking out of the box” is a good thing, while a few students would argue that it was debatable. No one argued that it was a bad thing, although I had a very insightful student who pointed out that the box had many benefits such as the ability to channel creativity in a directed and focused manner.


To this response, I would proceed to ask them “So, why don’t you build a bigger and better box?”, whereby we would all have a little bit of a laugh, seeing how much truth such a statement has. It is interesting that both perspectives of “thinking out of the box as being good” and “building a better and bigger box as being good” are both laden with truth and yet contradict each other. So, which statement is right? Or at least more correct than the other? From their responses, it would seem like “thinking out of the box being good” would garner more votes and thus more merit. However, what would happen if this is only the case because most individuals are not able to build bigger and better boxes?


After all, visionaries like the late Steve Jobs did not seem to be limited by parameter sets that constrained other individuals. This can be seen the many innovative products he helped create and bring to market, including that of the Macintosh Computer (1984), the “Mighty Mouse” and “Magic Mouse” as a means of interface for the Macintosh, and the i-Series of devices (iPod, iPhone, and iPad) which marked the start of a new era of smartphones and related devices centred around an ecosystem of applications. Unfortunately, for every visionary that isn’t constrained by an improperly built box, there seems to be countless others who are constrained by the boundaries of the box, even when it might not be relevant or meaningful. Often, these constraints are attributed away from the individual through excuses grounded in bureaucracy, tradition, culture, or history.


The leads to an identification of these two different groups of people: one group being constrained by the box, while the other group seemingly are not really constrained by the box. The distinction of these two groups suggests that they have very different ways of building their boxes, and might represent the truth behind why both statements can both be true. It stands to reason that the visionary group uses a superior approach towards building the parameters of the box when compared to the other group… and that is an approach that leads to the building of a bigger and better box.


 

[1] CEMS program https://www.cems.org/, NUS MSc students, NUS MBA students under the Global Strategic Management, Strategy: Bridging the planning and implementation divide, and Strategic Management course modules respectively.



 

What does thinking out of the box imply?


Figure 1 above is a conceptual representation of what “thinking out of the box” represents. Some key aspects to highlight are:


  1. The box highlights a parameter set that creates a playing field within the box that represents generally accepted and conventional solutions represented by the “X”s in the figure.

  2. The box presents with a parameter set or constraints that attempts to channel effort and resources towards finding outcomes that are effective. Solutions within the boundaries of the box are deemed as workable and “good” or valid.

  3. While the box does not have to be rectangular as depicted in Figure 1, the straight lines of the box do have some logic to them, as parameter constraints tend to rely on linear and content focused criteria. An example of such constraints would be in a marketing proposal brainstorming session with constraints such as: “the digital marketing budget needs to be between 20% to 40% of total marketing budget “and the “total marketing budget cannot exceed US$1,000,000”.

  4. Solutions outside the box represent thinking that break pass the parameter constraints and can represent both valid and innovative solutions or solutions that are too far removed from practical realities and would lead to undesirable outcomes. Effectively, every “O” represents either a good or bad solution.

  5. With thinking that is constraint by the box, it is relatively difficult to determine whether an “O” solution is good or bad, as it goes beyond the boundaries of readily acceptable thinking approaches.

In summary, Figure 1 represents a scenario whereby conventional and readily acceptable solutions are encouraged. It is difficult to determine if solutions outside the box are good or bad, and a good solution outside the box would be seen as innovative and often requires someone to go beyond what is normal thinking. When these good solutions are achieved, they often become “case studies” to be taught at educational institutions so that best practices (still following linear and content-oriented thinking) can be distilled. However, outcomes are often difficult to replicate closely because the insights are often not readily applicable across other similar scenarios that are complex in nature.


The illustration of the benefits of having a bigger and better box


What would happen if we are able to figure out a way to build a bigger and better box? To do this, we first need to understand that for the box to be seen as a basis to represent good, workable conventional solutions and outcomes within the box, the box must represent a subset of good solutions within a bigger space of good and workable solutions. However, the linear and content focused approach which most individuals follow (largely because our education institutions tend to focus on such an approach, and this approach is intricately linked to a focus on intelligence-oriented thinking) tend to create a more rigid parameter set for the box. This line of argument provides the basis for arguing that a larger, more fundamental and dynamic parameter set exist, whereby the current box represents a subset of that play area. As such, it is possible to create a bigger and better box.


Let’s explore what the result of having a bigger and better box would be. In Figure 2, we look at what would happen if we are able to identify the parameter set perfectly (relative).



Figure 2 above shows how an expanded box (the new box) that is bigger and better than the old box, and accurately captures the parameter set of the scenario has some critical advantages over using the parameters of the old box, and relying on “thinking outside of the box” for innovative ideas. The next section deals with how to build the bigger and better box. For now, lets just focus on the implications of using the new “bigger and better” box.


Using the new box, which captures the true parameter set accurately, allows for these critical advantages:

  1. The new box, when using the Wisdom Approach, will allow for the creation of a parameter set that isn’t constraint by rigid “linear and content-oriented” thinking. This occurs because the Wisdom Approach utilizes a quantum perspective that allows for both macro and micro considerations to be considered at the same time. The Wisdom Approach isn’t linear by nature and isn’t constraint by content. The next section will elaborate more on this. Effectively, this means that the parameter set of the new box is dynamic in nature, and can shape itself towards accurately capturing the true parameter set of any given scenario.

  2. The new box will be bigger and will include all options that were previously available for the old box.

  3. An expand box supported by a thinking approach that allows for the understanding of the expanded box allows for an increase in the identification of solutions. In Figure 2, this includes the 4 X1 spots. However, effectively, any solution within the parameters of the new box is plausible. Many of these solutions will be deemed as innovative and potentially difficult to arrive at for individuals limited by the parameter set of the old box.

  4. An accurate understanding of the parameter set allows for clear identification of whether an idea is workable or not. For the new box, any idea outside of the parameter set can be deemed as not workable, and any idea within the parameter set will be deemed as workable. However, given that the parameter set of the new box will likely be dynamic in nature, it can be prudent to carefully consider ideas that fall close to the boundaries of the new box, but are outside the parameter set.

  5. Comparing with the old box approach, one will be able to clearly identify which ideas outside of the old box are workable (X1) and which ideas are not workable (O).

  6. An accurate depiction of the parameter set of the new box allows for creative efforts and direction to be channelled towards solutions that fall within the boundaries of the new box, and avoid wasted efforts towards thinking of solutions outside of the box, where understanding of how things work is less transparent.

  7. There is no need to “think outside the box” in order to find innovative solutions. Regular solutions within the new box will be innovative to individuals still constraint by the old box.

“The ability to define the box correctly can make the need to “think outside the box” obsolete”

 

How do we go about building a bigger and better box?


The Wisdom Approach allows for the building of a bigger and better box because it builds up the parameter set from basic constructs that are relevant and meaningful to the scenario. This allows for the building of a parameter set that would more closely represent all the possible solution sets that exist for the scenario. Given a wisdom focused approach, important constructs that currently might not be relevant to the scenario, but would be meaningful to the scenario are also added into the consideration. Examples of such constructs would be (1) asymmetric information, to take into consideration differences in interpretation of each construct within the scenario, (2) Variance, which takes into consideration distribution characteristics of each construct within the scenario, and (3) Incomplete information, which takes into consideration the level of completeness and quality of the information being used.


A consideration of these constructs in a complete manner, or an optimized manner, will enable the construction of an optimized box for the scenario within a specific period of time. The box would thus be relatively perfect (even while it might not be absolutely perfect) given the circumstances governing the scenario. Constructs that are meaningful but currently not relevant also highlight areas for exploration in order to continue to optimize and enlarge the box in a meaningful manner. When additional understanding is achieved, it becomes possible to optimize the box again with the new parameter set, thus leading to a new level of relative perfection. It should be noted that in scenarios where constructs have inherent instability, it is not possible to achieve absolute perfection.


It is important to distinguish between relative perfection and absolute perfection. Relative perfection is when optimization is achieved within a specific parameter setting. You might be able to conceive it from an economic perspective of when marginal gains = marginal costs. From a broader perspective, it can be seen as a balance or equilibrium that occurs when the costs of developing the scenario is equal to the benefits of developing the scenario. Relative perfection can change as the circumstances governing the scenario changes. For example, a technological development that makes it easy to obtain information would reduce the friction levels for understanding the scenario. As such, the size and shape of the box changes in a manner that expands on aspects regarding understanding and usage of the information. This can lead to enhances in methods to improve consumer buying behaviour, or decision-making regarding customer service, product design or supply chain development, to name a few examples.


Absolute perfection is an ideal that can never be achieved in a scenario with constructs with inherent instability. This is because the inherent instability means that the scenario has strong range-estimate characteristics and the concept of absolute perfection is static in nature, indicating it has point estimate characteristics. An idea with point estimate characteristics can never capture fully or represent a scenario with range estimate characteristics. A simple example would be trying to determine a specific action that will always lead to the absolute highest level of happiness for an individual. It is impossible to identify one specific action that would also lead to maximal happiness because happiness is a construct with inherent instability (range estimate characteristics) while that specific action has strong point estimate characteristic. Essentially,

“Different actions provide different levels of happiness at different points of time”,

Thus,

“We can never identify any one specific action that will maximize happiness”.

Such statements are basic, insightful and wise, although the understanding of what makes it insightful, fundamental, and wise can be very deep.


 

Understanding the nature of the parameter of the box to ensure relative perfection is maintained


After a relatively perfect box has been built, it is important to ensure that the box stays relatively perfect. Given that the construction of the parameter set is based on basic constructs that are relevant and meaningful to the scenario, it becomes a relatively straight-forward approach consisting of 2 simple steps and a caveat:


Step 1: A quick recalibration as to whether the constructs being used are still relevant and meaningful, and if there is a need to add an additional construct. (Do we need to recalibrate?)

  • a. An example might be seen in the case of the organizational scenario of optimizing meetings. Pre Covid-19, meetings were generally at a specific location where individuals would gather for a specific agenda. This would normally be held in an office space. When the pandemic occurred and physical proximity became a new consideration, the rules of the game for the scenario changed, and this meant that the construct of synchronicity had to be adjusted. Specifically, a new facet of synchronicity across geography needed to be added into the equation. As such, any possible solution that addressed this shortcoming would be of value. In addition, for effective meetings, it would be beneficial if any sources of friction would be minimized, and any possible sources of synergy maximized. Thus, options that reduced friction (e.g. ensuring clear communications, like good sound and video quality, across participants within the meeting) were valuable. Likewise, synergistic elements that made it easy to add participants, and might even those who would previously not be able to join due to geographic and time constraints, would allow for value to be created.

  • b. By analysing constructs at a fundamental level, it becomes possible to solve for all relevant and meaningful solutions related to that construct, instead of finding solutions one at a time, in a linear and content-oriented manner, that might be difficult to implement across platforms and disciplines. There is also a much higher likelihood of missing good solutions when thinking in a linear and content-oriented manner.

  • c. It is possible to maintain accuracy in understanding, and implementation across levels (e.g. planning and implementation levels) because of the fundamental and universal nature of the constructs. This ensures the ability to achieve a solution that is both accurate, yet capture the conceptual nature of the scenario well. Normally, these two would cannibalize each other, in that the pursuit of one would normally lead to a degradation of the other.

Step 2: An understanding of how to recalibrate the construct (this interacts with “Do we need to recalibrate?”


After identifying the need to recalibrate (including the addition of constructs), we will need to determine how to recalibrate the constructs. To do this, we utilize other constructs to guide us. A simple example will be that of “direction”, which can be incorporated into the example illustrated previously about: “a technological development that makes it easy to obtain information would reduce the friction levels for understanding the scenario”.


Assuming that a relatively perfect box had already been formed before such a technological development, this would mean that an understanding of the natural limits of resources spent on information gathering had already been established (using the marginal gain = marginal cost idea). As friction is reduced, it means that the marginal cost is reduced, prompting an ability to accept lower marginal gains up until the point where marginal gain = marginal cost again. This would signify a new equilibrium, and recalibrate the parameter set to reflect the changed scenario.

Caveat: Being able to identify the constructs and understand recalibration gives us a parameter set that we can trust. Effectively, this allows us to more conclusively determine that solution sets that fall within the parameters of the box are workable and thus rightfully labelled as “good outcomes”. Likewise, solution sets that fall outside the box can be more conclusively determined to be “not workable” and thus rightfully labelled as “bad outcomes”. However, given that the parameter set of the box is dynamic in nature, it is important to view the parameter set as being in “phase”, or being inherently unstable. What this means is that solution sets that are close to the parameter boundary should not be dismissed so readily. After all, the Wisdom Approach is based on a quantum perspective, and solution sets that fall outside of the box parameters, but are close to the parameters might become valid and workable should the parameter set “phase” or shift as a result of changes to the scenario.


Caveat: Be careful when making a point-estimate judgment involving a scenario with strong range estimate characteristics when close to the parameter boundaries of the box.


A conceptualization of a buffer zone around the parameter set can be useful, whereby solution sets within the buffer zone are given special attention to determine feasibility. This buffer zone is very useful when implemented to a box that is relatively perfect in the determination of its parameter set (As a mental exercise, you can try to see if such a buffer zone would be useful for a smaller box that is based on linear and content-oriented constraints. In short, the answer would be “no”).


In all practicality, when you build a bigger and better box that achieves relative perfection, there is no longer any need to think out of the box in order to be innovative anymore. All you need to do is to thinking within the box, in a dynamic manner using the Wisdom Approach, and pay special attention to solution sets that fall close to the boundaries of the box.


If you want to generate better and more innovative ideas on a regular basis,

“Don’t think outside the box. Build a bigger and better box”.