Jargon Genesis: “Think Outside the Box”

Remember all the magical worlds you created inside those enormous refrigerator boxes when you were a kid? And much of the world’s greatest creative expression happens within the rectangular confines of a canvas or pieces of parchment! Why then, the emphasis on “thinking outside the box?” Where did that come from?

Starting today, I bring you a new blog series, “Jargon Genesis!” This series will enlighten your mind, impress your friends, and provide you more contexts the next time you want to use a classic business cliché. We will delve into the origins of all our favorite phrases, starting with “Think outside the box”--which seems appropriate after yesterday's post, with such a similar title.

This phrase, incidentally, is thought to be connected to the nine dot puzzle, first recorded in 1914 in Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of Puzzles. Perhaps you’ve seen this puzzle before?

Your task: Link all 9 dots using four straight lines or less, without lifting the pen.


The solution? Think outside the box!


This puzzle and its accompanying phrase were adopted by consultants in the 1970’s and 1980’s and were spread to corporations around the world. So next time you’re sitting next to the VP of marketing, and she asks you to “think outside the box,” you can ask her if she knows the origin of that phrase and seek to enlighten her. Or perhaps you’d better just get to work.