Have you ever heard the metaphor “thinking outside the box” or “beyond the box”? It means to think differently, in an unconventional way or from a new perspective.

It refers to creative thinking. The expression is believed to have been derived from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s who challenged their clients to solve the “nine points” game, the solution of which required lateral thinking (a technique for solving problems under a completely creative approach).

Image authors own.

However, the most important point of lateral thinking is not the final solution, but the questions that arise from this process. For this to happen, it is necessary to have a “clear and open” mind, but are we prepared to fail, or have we only approached a studied indifference*? Will we continue to think of the same solutions, or will we find new and different ideas for each situation? Is your organisation willing to budget for failure? Something merely contradictory, perhaps, but really coherent.

We ask everyone, for the sake of innovation, to think “out of the box” and use Design Thinking as a safe method to create, co-create or solve problems. Therefore, will we create Innovation departments or Design Thinking departments? Are we understanding the magnitude of the challenge and the risks behind it? Are we becoming experts in “thinking” or do we require others to “think differently”? Moreover, today we are all in the “business” of teaching others to think …

Design Thinking is the correct way, but incorrectly used to provoke other “disruptive thoughts” without the certainty of understanding them. And although I am more than convinced that Design Thinking helps to solve problems, it cannot solve all of them and it cannot be applied indiscriminately either. Design Thinking is no longer a methodology: it is now a philosophy, and requires a greater understanding before installing a “Culture of Innovation” where the differential is Design Thinking. We must see it as a state of mind, a way of being and thinking, it is the massive generation of ideas with the power to transform the dynamics of the market. Getting along with this philosophy is how innovative cultures are made, those that will drive the organisation to constantly improve, to learn more, to nurture the desire for more innovation.

Innovation cultures are defined as strong organisational cultures, capable of coming together to withstand adversity and prepare for crises arising in normal times. If we want to grow and innovate, we must take decisive action. We must break patterns and deviate from the usual path of thought towards anything that represents an alternative or unusual change. And it is through Lean Inception that the Design Thinking philosophy and the Lean Startup method are combined to innovate in your company.

The Lean Inception model was created by Paulo Caroli and published in his book Lean Inception: Creating Conversations towards a Successful Product. The method was born in Brazil in  2011, expanding around the world and aligning people to build the right product, effectively combining Design Thinking and Lean Startup.

“To start an agile project, it is essential to have a common vision of the business and user goals. Within this context, we seek to define and be clear about the essential components of the MVP in order to generate a plan for the continuity of the project. This is Lean Inception”.

The construction of successful products starts with Lean Inception, and to explain  its scope we will use it in the 3 dilemmas below:

  • Dilemma 1: Most of us surely can think “out of the box”, but is it really that easy to think differently and like never before? And even if it is possible, would you be willing to fail? What if failure were possible and did not carry a risk? How much of that learning would you be willing to share in the organisation? With partners? Would you assume that you are a great failure if you did not manage to solve a problem that has been presented to you differently?

We must understand that innovation and creative thinking are at odds with shame and fear. Why do I say that?  Before talking about innovation in your company, have you talked about the risk of failure? Before asking people to think “out of the box,” have you freed them from that risk? Have you given assurance that people will  not lose their jobs  if their  out of the box ideas fail?

In innovation we have two glorious paths: great success and outright failure. In reality, we will hardly ever know in a co-creation session where we will end up. We can draw the map, not the territory. Now, if we see this applied to  Lean Inception, we find not only an attitude of the individual where he recognises his inability to be in possession of wisdom (a domain that Plato reserves for the gods in the dialogue, “Phaedrus”), but also a form of knowledge that accepts and prevents him from opening up to change (you need to adopt a Design Thinking philosophy). And while you won’t be successful the first time, your risk of failure will decrease (you need to apply the Lean Startup method: try, learn and unlearn) and you will become more flexible in the face of adverse situations. Flexibility is a highly desired soft skill today and essential to divert from losing time thinking about the dilemma itself to enhance thinking about actions that minimise the problems that people face.

  • Dilemma 2: If I am ready to be creative and “think outside the box”, and I know that I will not lose my job trying to solve problems in a different way, do I  know how much budget the company has to fail? That is, if we are going to innovate using Design Thinking to solve problems in a different way, has the organisation allocated money  that allows ideas to be built and fail without risk?

Radical collaboration systems need to be developed. Learning from the customer is the key, and the faster we understand it, the cheaper it will be. Now, if we see this as applying Lean Inception, the Lean Startup method emphasises on creating “the system”, the way in which teams work together. They must be allowed to work independently and trust what they do and how they do it for the organisation. On the other hand, from the Design Thinking philosophy, remember that it is an iterative and people-centered process, this means that the company must constantly apply it to analyse results and incorporate new ideas and new pain in clients. So, what you can achieve with Lean Inception is to put all the learning into practice so that you never again waste time, money or effort building the wrong product. The speed of change in the market is much more advanced nowadays, and those companies that process their mistakes and continue to move forward are the ones that will be able to better adapt to change until they achieve their objectives.

  • Dilemma 3: How many hours a day do you spend in your organisation teaching them to think “out of the box”? The studied indifference to which I refer to earlier is that organisations today aim for innovation through Design Thinking, ignoring risks and not assigning resources to fail.

Fail early, fail cheap, and fail many times. Properly put, the Design Thinking philosophy. So far, this idea may seem familiar to you, but what about the rest of your employees? Or your colleagues? Here, it is not seen as a negative, but as the necessary step to achieve innovation. Contrary to the culture of success, making mistakes must occur in every single phase of the business cycle. Now, if we see this applying Lean Inception, the Lean Startup method performs trial and error tests in a very low margin rate, knowing that their gain is in satisfying demands of consumers with the final version of its product.

Innovating means taking risks, but these are less when market opportunities are already detected. Tests are designed and carried out, reviewing the mishaps that occur as the MVP is adjusted, taking into account the feedback from people and their attitudes. With the Lean Inception model, you learn by doing, testing the value of ideas and their engagement with the audience.

It is with no doubt that thinking outside the box shows us much larger fields of action that exceed the natural and conventional frameworks through which we have always traveled. It is an escape door to a safer path, away from monotony and closer to changing the status quo, skipping linear thinking and daring to explore a range of opportunities that not everyone sees easily. To be different and grow, think about whether or not your leadership fosters a culture of innovation and prepares your team to find quick and cheap solutions and promote an environment of high collaboration in the face of the challenges that will inevitably occur.

* Oxymoron (from the gr. Oxymoron). m. Ret. According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language, it is a combination in the same syntactic structure of two words or expressions of opposite meaning, which originate a new meaning (for example: a thunderous silence, or in this case studied indifference).