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What the latest experiment proves is not that creativity lacks any association to thinking outside-the-box, but that such is not conditioned by acquired knowledge, i.e., environmental concerns.

For example, there have been some theories such as those of Schopenhauer (see his remarks about Genius) and Freud (see his remarks about Sublimation) that propose creativity is something more like a capacity provided by nature rather than one acquired or learned from the environment.

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Because they hadn’t, they were obviously not as creative or smart as they had previously thought, and needed to call in creative experts. The nine-dot puzzle and the phrase “thinking outside the box” became metaphors for creativity and spread like wildfire in marketing, management, psychology, the creative arts, engineering, and personal improvement circles.

There seemed to be no end to the insights that could be offered under the banner of thinking outside the box.

If you have tried solving this puzzle, you can confirm that your first attempts usually involve sketching lines inside the imaginary square.

The correct solution, however, requires you to draw lines that extend beyond the area defined by the dots.

In other words, the difference could easily be due to what statisticians call sampling error.

Let’s look a little more closely at these surprising results.

That is, direct and explicit instructions to think outside the box did not help.

That this advice is useless when actually trying to solve a problem involving a real box should effectively have killed off the much widely disseminated—and therefore, much more dangerous—metaphor that out-of-the-box thinking spurs creativity.

The idea went viral (via 1970s-era media and word of mouth, of course).

Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box.

Indeed, the concept enjoyed such strong popularity and intuitive appeal that no one bothered to check the facts.