From teachers to bosses, we’re often encouraged to “think outside the box.” But as creatures of habit, we tend to prefer the comfort of the familiar. In times of change (introduction of new company leadership, for example), devising a new way of doing things can be challenging. However, these moments offer opportunities to get creative and tap into our innate ingenuity to think beyond what we’ve previously done. 

We know that this type of change agility is important in the workplace, and it’s not just something people are born with. Change agility can be learned and used to improve existing systems. While there’s no strict framework for thinking outside the box, these five approaches will help your team to keep thinking of new ways to do things.

Preview of thinking outside the box ideas

Idea 1: Reverse brainstorming 

Routine is the enemy of innovative thinking. But it can be a struggle to shift teams from doing things the way they’ve always done. Instead of brainstorming how to accomplish a goal, do the opposite — brainstorm ways to fail at achieving a goal. This technique builds on the natural human tendency to more easily see problems before we see solutions. 

Idea 2: Five options

One way to mitigate pushback, whether from upper management or your own brain, is to challenge yourself to develop five possible options or solutions to a problem. The first two or three might come easily, but when you hit a wall on four and five, push yourself to keep innovating.

Idea 3: Obstacle approach 

With any new project, it isn’t a matter of if there will be obstacles to reaching the finish line. It’s a matter of what kind of obstacles stand in your way to the finish line. Before you begin an initiative, imagine all the possible obstacles you might encounter and make a plan (or two!) to avoid them.

Idea 4: Ideal future technique

Whether consciously or not, we all harbor an idea of what we’d like our future to look like. But what if we practiced this more mindfully and with an eye towards the projects we’re working on? Ask yourself: What’s the project like? What are you doing? Who is involved? What’s different from the present? What would you need to make that ideal future a reality? You can even try this line of thinking to plan your career!

Idea 5: Simplify it

The late Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t really understand it.” If you can’t explain your problem to a child, take some time to figure out how to talk through your project more simply. Sometimes the act of figuring out helps us put the complex ideas in simple terms. 

Be ready for anything

It’s difficult not immediately to default to the path of least resistance. Still, innovation and increased competition force companies and their employees to constantly search for a new way of doing things. Thinking outside the box is only one approach. 

To learn how to help your teams manage change, use the guidance in The 5 Principles of Change Agility: How to Prepare for Anything.