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Let’s look a little more closely at these surprising results.
Solving this problem requires people to literally think outside the box.
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.
Even though they weren’t instructed to restrain themselves from considering such a solution, they were unable to “see” the white space beyond the square’s boundaries.
Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.
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.
The first group was given the same instructions as the participants in Guilford’s experiment.
The second group was told that the solution required the lines to be drawn outside the imaginary box bordering the dot array.
It was an appealing and apparently convincing message.
Indeed, the concept enjoyed such strong popularity and intuitive appeal that no one bothered to check the facts.
In the 1970s, however, very few were even aware of its existence, even though it had been around for almost a century.