Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Think Outside the Box Is Not Just a Tired Business Idiom

Have you heard the expression think outside the box? It's a popular American

English business idiom and it means that you should think creatively about something. It also happens to be one of the business idioms I teach in my book "Speak Business English Like an American" (and I note that is now overused so you might not want to use it yourself -- but you will certainly hear it being used).

According to new research covered in a New York Times article "When Truisms are True", it really DOES help your creativity when you think outside the box. Business school professors performed an experiment on 102 students at New York University. They gave them a creative task - the students were told to think of a word that was associated with three other words (example: given the words measure, worm, and video, the students would give the answer tape). Some students were put in a 125-cubic-foot box made of plastic and cardboard to do the task. Others did the task while seated just outside the box. Guess which group performed significantly better? Those sitting OUTSIDE the box. They thought of 20% more creative solutions than the box folks. So thinking outside the box is not just a metaphor -- it can also be taken literally.

What implications does that have for those who work in cubicles? Get out of your box from time to time and do some thinking outside the box!

Two more business idioms proven to have powers by this research team: on the one hand/on the other hand. Are you familiar with this structure? Use it like this: One the one hand, I'd like to take the job in Russia. On the other hand, I'm very comfortable living and working here in the United States." When students were asked to come up with fresh ideas, the students who were told to generate ideas while using both hands (and switching between them) did better. They came up with MORE ideas than those students who only listed there ideas using one hand. Too bad the expressions aren't "On the one finger / on the other finger" - we'd have 8 more appendages to work with in generating creative ideas!

Check out the full New York Times article by clicking here

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