Thinking in New Boxes

A New Paradigm for Business Creativity

By Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny

For decades, organizational leaders striving to develop new strategies, innovative products or services, or fresh business models have been instructed in the same conventional way: try to think outside the box. The problem is that doing this is often enormously difficult. No matter how creative, open minded, and forward thinking people may strive to be, they frequently do not know which mental framework—which box—they’re supposed to think outside of. And they don’t know where to look for new ideas in the undefined space beyond that box. In a paradigm-busting book entitled Thinking in New Boxes, BCG puts forth a powerful five-step approach to sparking big ideas and achieving competitive advantage. Thinking in New Boxes challenges conventional wisdom by asserting that thinking outside the box is not only challenging—it’s insufficient. Instead, we have developed a whole new method for stretching peoples’ perspectives and coming up with new ideas—or changing the way we look at existing ones.

We have observed that a key distinction between winners and losers, leaders and followers, those who soar in the face of change and those who are defeated by it comes down to a form of strategic creativity that we refer to as “thinking in new boxes.” This process marries deductive and inductive thinking, pragmatic analysis with the free-flowing generation of ideas. When people think in new boxes, they identify and then challenge some of their existing assumptions and constraints—"the way we do things around here"—which leads them to new ways of embracing complexity, navigating uncertainty, and preparing for the disruptions that inevitably await them.

Across all industries—from health care to financial institutions, consumer products to energy—the creative process we describe in this book can significantly help shift and revitalize how decision makers and all the stakeholders within an organization perceive the world. It can empower them to see fresh angles, pursue risky and exciting new vistas, and develop novel solutions to the many challenges ahead of them. It can help them generate ideas and make decisions regarding investments, cost cutting, even their own careers.

Thinking in New Boxes can help people rediscover the full power of thinking in all its many dimensions. It can help them come together to imagine, shape, and then release into the world new designs, strategies, and visions that may lead to the next Post-it note or the next iPad. It gives them the tools and the know-how to dream up multiple scenarios in which to do business, and thus better prepare for whatever the future holds. And it offers a unique approach to learning how to ask the right questions in order to open up the most promising doors to creativity, innovation, and opportunity.

The book was released by Random House on September 10, 2013, in hardcover and e-book formats.

What People Are Saying

Thinking in New Boxes is a five-step guide that leverages the authors’ deep understanding of human nature to enable readers to overcome their limitations and both imagine and create their own futures. This book is a must-read for people living and working in today’s competitive environment.”

—Ray O. Johnson, Ph.D., chief technology officer, Lockheed Martin

Thinking In New Boxes discusses what I believe to be one of the fundamental shifts all companies/brands need to be thinking about: how to think creatively, in order to innovate and differentiate our brands. We need to thrive and lead in a world of accelerating change and this book challenges us to even greater creativity in our thinking. One of the best business books I’ve read in a long time.”

—Jennifer Fox, CEO, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

“As impressive as teaching new tricks to old dogs, Thinking in New Boxes is both inspirational and practical—a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to sharpening one’s wits in order to harness creativity in the workplace.”

—Peter Gelb, general manager, Metropolitan Opera

“Brilliantly original and relentlessly practical, Thinking in New Boxes brings a truly fresh approach . . . It not only challenges the readers to think differently, but also shows them how. It is that rare business book actually worth reading cover to cover.”

—Jim Andrew, chief strategy and innovation officer, chairman of the sustainability board, executive vice president, and member of the executive committee, Royal Philips

“The pinnacle resource for any business or organization, Thinking in New Boxes is a straightforward road map on mastering the art of futurist leadership and understanding the intersections between creativity, innovation, and re-invention.  A well-thought-out approach and a hands-down must-read for anyone in pursuit of success in a rapidly changing global business ecosystem.”

—Dr. Mehmood Khan, chief scientific officer, PepsiCo

“Psychology has shown us that there’s no such thing as ‘thinking outside the box.’ The mind always thinks in boxes, big and small, and the key to creativity is finding and creating the right boxes to think with. This practical book draws out the implications of this research, and it is a joy to read. I loved the many real-world examples, drawn from the authors’ many years of consulting for BCG.”

—Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

“Offers excellent suggestions for thinking creatively and creating a sustainable work culture in the department and in one’s organization . . . a valuable tool for employees and managers of all institutions.”

—Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

“An imaginative, proactive, and creative approach to problem solving that prospects for new ideas rather than trying to predict the future.”


“A must-read for anyone in a leadership position who dares to look at the world in new ways.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)