Inside the Box

Inside the Box

Authors: Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldberg


Where do good ideas come from? Many books have tried to answer this question and there abound several theories of innovation and creativity. This book however goes against the conventional wisdom and counters the popular notion that good ideas come from some form of ‘thinking outside the box’. The authors assert that creativity is most often the outcome of thinking inside the box. They also suggest that innovation relies on tools of creativity which are readily available ‘inside your familiar world.’ (page 2).



The book makes the case that ‘… the best and fastest way to innovate is to look at resources close at hand‘ (page 9). They show that ‘the further away the resource, the less creative the solution it generates’, and ‘the further you go from the problem, the less creative you will be’ (page 24). Their first rule of creativity is therefore to ‘look inside‘ (page 27).


The book explores this ‘closed world principle‘ of creativity and shows how it applies to a wide variety of disciplines (page 22). The authors stress that ‘the closed world is a rich space full of surprises and creative ideas’ (page 33). They cite research which show that the constraints imposed by the closed world boosts, rather than impedes, the creative process (page 26). The authors also disapprove of some creativity techniques such as brainstorming and mind maps contending that these ‘…take you further and further away from your problem’ (page 27), and they may actually hinder creativity (pages 31/32).

3D Blame game Meeting. Scott Maxwell on Flikr.
3D Blame game Meeting. Scott Maxwell on Flikr.


The authors buttress their arguments with several products of ‘inside the box’ thinking. These include the DVD, the Walkman, iPod, Twitter, captcha, and the cellular phone Mango. They also gave apparently mundane illustrative examples ranging from razors and cameras to toilets and skyscrapers.

The book makes liberal use of interesting anecdotes such as Dick Fosbury’s innovative back-flip high jump technique (page 15), and Eberhard Au’s invention of a mine rescue capsule a capsule (page 61). The anecdotes also cover everyday problem-solving; the authors related how they solved the tricky problem of a stuck nut when attempting to change a flat tyre (page 23).



‘Inside the box’ thinking or Systemic Inventive Thinking relies on five methods which the authors discuss in detail. These methods or templates of innovation are subtraction, division, multiplication, task unification, and attribute dependency. They illustrated these techniques using examples from all fields of human endeavour such as the ATM machine, IKEA, Amazon, and Google circle.

They referred to Raymond Bushland and Edward Knipling’s award-winning techniques of tsetse fly eradication and Gretchen LeBuhn’s crowdsourcing to track bee populations in the Great Sunflower Project (page 149).



The authors address many other questions about creativity such as whether innovation is inbred or acquired. The authors believe creativity is a ‘skill that can be learned and mastered by anyone’ and not ‘a gift that you either have of don’t have from birth’ (page 13).

They also discuss obstacles to creativity among which is structural and functional fixedness– they describe this as ‘…the tendency to see objects only in a traditional way, or use them as they have been traditionally used’ (page 45), and ‘the inclination of humans to see items as whole units’ (page 47). - PackshotCreator - Puzzle cubes. Creative Tools on Flikr. – PackshotCreator – Puzzle cubes. Creative Tools on Flikr.


This is one of several books that try to solve the mystery of creativity. Inside the box thinking is a novel, even if counter-intuitive, concept. The authors however support their view with very believable instances and practical templates. It is a well-written book although the flow is often interrupted by their style of switching between the perspectives of the different authors. The seventh chapter also appeared belaboured and verged on the philosophical; I thought the book would have been enhanced if the chapter was ‘subtracted’. Apart from these however the book is worth the expense for the outlook it gives on creative thinking.


This excellent book provides a practical and believable concept of innovation. The examples in the book, and indeed personal experience, suggest that thinking within the ‘closed world’ is often productive. I recommend the book for the insight it gives on creativity which all doctors should find useful.


  • Publisher, place, date: Profile Books London 2014
  • Edition: 1st
  • Number of chapters: 8
  • Pages: 257
  • ISBN: 978-1846686252
  • Price:
  • Star rating: 4

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