back to article Outside-the-box thinking literally can't be done inside a box, say profs

Researchers in Singapore and America have determined to their own satisfaction that it is actually much more difficult to think outside the box if you are, in reality, inside a large box at the time. mime_in_box Dumb...and in a box Photo credit: Lighthelper. They determined this by means of a series of experiments in …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. SuperTim

    Sticky things

    Presumably must be thrown at walls and the results observed.

  2. CaptainHook

    Thats convenient

    "We may consider getting away from Dilbert's cubicles and creating open office spaces to free up our minds," says Leung.

    just stick staff in a room and leaving it up to them to block out the resulting noise is a much better approach to creativity... and look, it saves a fortune in installation costs as well.

    Don't get me wrong, cubicles are soul destroying, but I find open plan much harder to concentrate in.

    1. Yag


      I'ld KILL for a cubicle instead of this 20-person-on-different-project-open-space bullshit I'm actually enduring...

      Nukes - Killing may not be enough.


      Nukes - Largest open space maker since 1945.

      1. ArmanX


        The trouble with taking down all the cubicle walls is that you haven't removed your employees from the box - you've just dumped all your employees into a much larger box. I'm betting that if you were to perform an experiment, wherein you stuck 10 people into an elevator, they would end up being even less creative than the poor guy sitting in his cardboard box.

    2. Mike Flugennock

      open-plan hell

      About thirty-odd years ago, my first job out of college was in an "open plan" office. The entire design shop -- all eight of us -- had our layout tables set up around the perimeter of a single large room. That's eight different graphic artists with eight different kinds of personal fotos and knick-knacks and working styles and telephone conversations with clients and project leaders all mashed together in that space -- not to mention upwards of eight different kinds of music coming from eight different radios or tape decks. Luckily, the Walkman had just been invented the year before, or we'd have all beaten the shit out of each other.

      Meanwhile, over on the other side of the publications department, the writers and editors had cublcles in an even larger room, so the effect was like a giant rat maze. Just being in that goddamn' room was soul-crushing, never mind having to actually work there eight hours a day.

      I still don't know which is worse.

  3. Chris Miller

    Good to know

    That the world economy is doing so well that we can afford to pay (somewhat) intelligent people to carry out such pointless rubbish. Or did they do it in their own time as some sort of post-modern artistic attempt to win the Turner Prize?

  4. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge

    Cool findings...

    'seated "inside a five-by-five-foot cardboard box" similar to an empty refrigerator carton'

    Evidently some sort of Leftpondian refrigerator.

    If they had used a UK refrigerator box, then their main thought would have been...

    "I can't breathe!"

    1. lIsRT


      If it's meant to contain a human, I'd have used something three-dimensional myself.

  5. IP Ruins The World

    Dilbert's cubicles

    "We may consider getting away from Dilbert's cubicles and creating open office spaces to free up our minds,"

    There is possibly no bigger drain on time and productivity than the open office space myth. Whoever came up with the original idea was obviously a trick cyclist and not someone who works in an office.

    Right, gotta go now, the bloke next to me needs to chat about something.

    1. JohnG

      "There is possibly no bigger drain on time and productivity than the open office space myth. Whoever came up with the original idea was obviously a trick cyclist and not someone who works in an office."

      Open plan and it's derivative, cubicles provide a nice way to separate the proletariat from their bosses, helping the latter to maintain their sense of superiority. The next level is to have a corner office with a nice view, only accessed via an adjacent office with a PA/secretary on guard duty. It is all about status, I doubt they ever considered productivity.

      Personally, I have found the telephone to be even more intrusive that being in an open place office and particularly like the "forward to voicemail" feature.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        At least with cubes, you can get some degree of privacy from your co-workers and do muffle ambient sound better than open plan.

        But I find the main drain on time, productivity, workplace happiness and any other 'positive things' at work, tends to be other people.

  6. SoaG

    Now with 100% more settled science!

    Apparently cubicles really are bad for productivity. Go figure.

    I sense a start point for Office Space 2. Or perhaps Scott Adams sponsored the study?

  7. Stephen Hunt

    Next I would like them to investigate...

    Whether you can really see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes. Yes, you can.

      Using the equation √(13h) = distance to true horizon. h is the height above ground in metres of the viewer's eyeballs.

      The numerical answer is left as an exercise for the student; not least because your giant may vary.

  8. crediblywitless


    This really does read like a Daily Mash article. I take it that was deliberate? I fully expected to see a quote from Nicky Hollis or Tom Logan.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've read some bullshit in my time, but this is ridiculous. What next? Looking at blue skies versus cloudy ones?

    As for open plan offices, it's a fine opportunity to hear how useless your colleagues actually are, and how much they actually slack off.

    Hmm, better post anon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What next? Looking at blue skies versus cloudy ones?


  10. U4eA

    Just a question really..

    "The psychologists also tested other "metaphors of creative thinking" found in everyday use"


    Although I cant shift the unedifying thought that if they tested some of the metaphors used around here everyday some poor sap had a delightful time cleaning a fan...

  11. Steve 114


    I heard that if you can't see out of a window from your desk, a tank of tropical fish is second-best to liberate creativity. (Come lunchtime, remember Wanda makes a very poisonous sandwich).

  12. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT)

    What no-one seems to have mentioned yet is that....

    ...people got paid for this bollocks!!!!!

    1. Jason Bloomberg

      Bollocks or brilliant?

      Any analysis of what works and what doesn't or any assessment of what delivers best results has some general worthiness. Is it bollocks if someone can capitalise on it, make greater profit or improve people's lives?

      There are plenty of 'what happens if...?' questions and if you want an answer you have to go for it. It all adds to the great pool of knowledge, some useful some less so, but knowledge none the less.

      1. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT)


        I appreciate what you are saying, but in this instance, I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. This would be worthy of study, if it was general practice to make people work in large cardboard boxes, and, at least in the offices I've seen anyway, it is not.

        If the aim is to prove the creativity-limiting factor of cube-farms, then test these people in proper office cubes, not cardboard boxes.

        It's like trying to determine if it is depressing to live in the desert, and test people in a room with sand thrown on the floor and a tanning bulb.

        1. Shakje


          The problem, I would guess, is looking at it as a single study, rather than a process. The next question would be why. Why does working in a box limit creativity? Since we don't really understand the processes of the brain at all, never mind when it comes to things like creativity, any insight that provokes further research has to be a good thing.

          It's probably also worth reminding people that the study showed that working in a cubicle might decrease creativity, not that this automatically means working in an open-plan office increases your work output. Perhaps it could be considered that a smaller office, with creative jobs such as illustration, design, development, might benefit better from an open-plan than a huge office with lots of distractions and unrelated jobs.

          If the goal of the study is purely to show that working in a cubicle is worse than an open-plan, then you have a valid criticism, but that seems to just be a possible outcome, not the real goal, which would appear to be more along the lines of "what can influence creativity?" taking cues from phrases that have stuck in popular culture, perhaps for good reason, with an aim of understanding creativity better.

          I also wonder how many people knocking the research have actually looked at the abstract to see what the justification was, an excerpt:

          "These metaphors suggest a connection between concrete bodily experiences and creative cognition. Inspired by recent advances on body-mind linkages under the emerging vernacular of embodied cognition, we explored for the first time whether enacting metaphors for creativity enhances creative problem-solving."

          Personally, just me, I think that's quite a good idea for a study.

      2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Thumb Up

        Bollocks or brilliant?

        Brilliant! P.F.M! Getting funding to do this sort of research, pure genuis, I'd love to see the submission for the research grant.

  13. Purlieu

    prime candidate

    for the next Ig Nobels

    1. Harry Kay

      Absolutely!! bring it on!!

  14. nexsphil

    master --> servant

    But then how will the master/servant atmosphere be created? The boss needs to be able to swan among his worker drones in their little cubicles 9-5 or it's not a proper business. Some things are way more important than stinkin' profit.

  15. jake Silver badge

    "Singapore Management University"? Really?

    Tee hee.

    1. /dev/me

      Jake, I take it

      You are laughing because of your doubts how a University can empower Management with value-added knowledge intensive processes and leverage potential efficiency margins in the Human Resource area? I know, I know.. that's what consultants are for.

      1. jake Silver badge


        I grok the humor.

        Note that I received my MBA after I already had several other more ... uh ... "worldly" degrees under my belt. I either benefited, or was damaged, depending on ones perspective ;-)

  16. Trokair 1


    Local scientists were arrested late yesterday after breaking a local man's legs prior to open mic night at a comedy club in order to boost his performance. More at 11.

  17. Andus McCoatover


    Cost me loads before they finally decided I was a 'cycle-path'.

  18. Colin Millar

    let me get this straight

    A bunch of shrinks wants to think about creative thinking vs constrained thinking so they study embodying facile SAOLs (aka metaphors).

    Maybe they are sponsored by the self-improvement book publishers association.

    If they want to see just how crap metaphorical thinking actually is I could recommend a few commentards for them to read.

  19. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Paris Hilton

    May I be the first... use a Paris Icon, because it is much more difficult to think outside the box if you are inside a large box at the time.

    fnarrrr fnarrrrr

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps because of the distraction?

    Perhaps the people in the box are distracted by *being in a box*?

    "Hmmm. OK, maybe if I rotate this bit (gads this is weird).... No, what if I turn that over (I've not done this sort of things since I was 5) no, flip that maybe (except that time with that hot cheerleader..................)"

    Ditto with "walking randomly" vs. "walking a set path": "Maybe I need to ignore the colored shapes since they are a - crap, off the line, get back on the line - what was I thinking, it may have been important - damn it, off the line again"

    Or it could be the random stimuli around us inspires us - after all, it always seems to work for Gregory House....

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jumping to conclusions

    What is not being said is... Everyone should work in an open plan office or putting people in cubicles hurts productivity. Simply open plan spaces spark more creativity. Creativity alone won't get your work done, it may give you the spark of imagination you need to solve the problem you are faced with but when it comes to getting down and doing it you want to be closed off to crack on with it without distraction. Organising that in a way which works with everyone and keeping everyone focused is immensely more difficult... S**t, boss is coming...

  22. IronSteve

    "In another experiment, some participants were asked to join the halves of cut-up coasters before taking a test — a physical representation of "putting two and two together."

    Isn't that putting One and One together?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or half and half, ...

      .. but I agree with your point. The only thing it *isn't* is putting two and two together.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    On the one hand, this is a steaming great load of crap, but on the other hand, ...

    ... this is a steaming great load of vapid fatuous crap. Hey! It works, see!

    The "on the [one] hand; on the other hand" formulation is a way of presenting two contrasting ideas in one sentence; it doesn't intrinsically have any truth "in" it, that depends entirely on the content of the two presented ideas. Claiming to have discovered that it can sometimes contain truth is like the fascinating discovery that you can "find truth in" a bit of paper; it's nothing to do with the paper and everything to do with what's written on it.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We may consider..."

    "...getting away from Dilbert's cubicles and creating open office spaces"


    "Nachtigall ick hör dir trapsen", as the Berliners say.

    (Good luck on google).

  25. Mike Flugennock

    Btw, just noticing...

    ...that these days, most people I hear using the expression "think outside the box" are people entirely incapable of any kind of independent creative or innovative thought. These days, when I see the phrase "think outside the box" in a job listing, my first thought is "run awaaaayyyyyy!"

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The true idiocy is highlighted by the fact that the implication of the article ("trick cyclists") and some of the comments "mentioning "shrinks") is that the people who used such terms clearly cannot distinguish between psychiatrists and psychologists. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine, though they seem to think otherwise, and psychology is a science, though many of its practitioners are far from being scientists.

  27. KayKay

    creative is NOT work

    Most jobs do not require creativity. They take concentration The less distractions the better. That is why cubicles WORK. .

    Working from home better still, if you can be alone there. You don't get to hear or see your colleagues, you can delay their IMs or voicemails until YOU are ready to deal with them..........

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022