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The second group was told that the solution required the lines to be drawn outside the imaginary box bordering the dot array.
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. Guilford was one of the first academic researchers who dared to conduct a study of creativity.He challenged research subjects to connect all nine dots using just four straight lines without lifting their pencils from the page.Management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s even used this puzzle when making sales pitches to prospective clients.Because the solution is, in hindsight, deceptively simple, clients tended to admit they should have thought of it themselves.Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.
The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box.
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.
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.
At the first stages, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square (even those who eventually solved the puzzle).