formula for thinking
January 20, 2010 7:11 AM   Subscribe

If I'm trying to come up with a model or a function to determine to what extent a specific person is able to think outside the box (or unconventionally, or differently), what variables do you consider crucial to do this analysis?
posted by ttyn to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
Maybe one way to measure it is to present a real-world problem that most people would solve in one way and then see how many different solutions the person can come up with in a set period of time. For the problem, I mean something realistic, not abstract--like some physical object is broken, a business is facing a specific challenge, something like that.
posted by PatoPata at 7:19 AM on January 20, 2010

By trying to define criteria that measure the outside-the-box-ness of someone's thinking, aren't you in effect creating another "box"? Wouldn't a really unconventional thinker stand beyond your metrics?
posted by letourneau at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with letourneau. By definition, anything outside of the "box" you have set up as a testing variable is in a predefined expected result, thus in the box.

Out of the box thinking is more a subjective approach to problems solving that enlists options beyond the experience of the individual. The ability to imagine a scenario, rather than imagine a solution within a previously successful scenario, is what I think of when someone uses the term "out of the box".

So, you should score someone on their ability to imagine a problem space, solution, or approach that is beyond their own experience or skill set. The degree to which they come up with usable scenarios is directly related to their skill at thinking outside the box.
posted by qwip at 7:40 AM on January 20, 2010

If you're evaluating your staff for this quality, you might note who gets stressed/upset when things don't go to plan or when unexpected things pop up. It seems kind of obvious, but those won't typically be your out of the box thinkers. They'll typically want to be handed solutions to execute, not be people who come up with solutions independently. So maybe in summary this is a measure of adaptability and innovation, which are components of out of the box thinking.
posted by Askr at 7:47 AM on January 20, 2010

The first step to coming up with an indicator is determining what you want to measure, and at what level. You've identified the impact level of measurement, that is, the overall impact of the traits you're after. Impact level indicators are often hard to measure, and are frequently lagging indicators (which means that they take a while to show change or results).

You should put some thought into what your intermediate level measurements might be. Output level indicators would measure the concretes delivered by your out of box thinker, while outcome level indicators would measure the effect that those outputs had. Thinking about these things will help you to determine what's really important for your mythical person to possess. Otherwise you might either measure the wrong thing, or measure something useless.

Eg. Say the problem is "How do we more efficiently move stuff around in our warehouse?"
An unconventional thinker might suggest moving the warehouse to the moon since the low gravity would allow each forklift to move a greater volume of goods. However, not only are there serious practical limitations to that idea, but the same thinker might suggest moving things to the moon when confronted with all problems. In other words, you would neither get a reliably workable idea from such a person, nor would you get an innovative idea (since the person actually thinks inside the box, just not your box).

So, you might think about output in this way, "How many ideas does this person suggest? How many seem feasible?" You might think of outcome in this way, "How many ideas actually work to solve the presented problems? How many are scalable?"

Once you come up with ways that you can measure the worth of that person's ideas, you might be able to come up with ways to predict if other people will be able to think outside the box.
posted by OmieWise at 7:47 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whose box do you want the person to think out of? Your box, or their own box?

If you want them to think out of their own box, then you need to control for their level of education, experience and so on. You maybe need to pick a subject matter that the people under test are all equally unfamiliar with.

If you want people to think out of the "average" box, then you just need a lot of people thinking of solutions to something, and to throw away all the people whose solutions are common to many other people.

If you want them to think out of YOUR box, e.g. the hidebound procedures of your company, then I guess you need to give them a problem specific to your company, but then you also need to consider a lot of other factors in this person, such as their ability to keep swimming upstream in the face of long term resistance.
posted by emilyw at 8:04 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Capacity to recognize irony?
posted by cmoj at 9:02 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I believe this is one reason people use the Miller Analogies Test.
posted by brainwane at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2010

Malcolm gladwell talks about a test along the lines of how many uses can you think of for a brick or a blanket.
posted by mearls at 11:18 AM on January 20, 2010

I think this is like trying to express "funkiness" as a percentage.

Having said that:

If you really want a standardised score, I guess you could try to define as many layers of "box" as possible: does the candidate consider physical, environmental, psychological, legal, economic, business, political, ethical, aesthetic and logistical factors when solving an open-ended problem? If you have a number of candidates with different solutions to the same problem, you could then compare their "coverage".

You could always ask them how best to measure something unquantifiable: it would expose their critical thinking skills.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:32 AM on January 20, 2010

If you are trying to construct a test that you can give to people in order to judge their creativity, I suggest you first review the Creativity tests entry in the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, and the Creativity#Measuring_creativity wikipedia article.

You may also find ISECOM's JACK interesting, though the site states that "Jack of All Trades is not meant to be a test. It is meant to be a discussion and a training workshop. Please keep that in mind."
posted by James Scott-Brown at 11:38 AM on January 21, 2010

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