During my first semester in the master’s program at Texas Tech University, I was introduced to two closely related concepts; “step out of your comfort zone” and “think outside the box”. My professor was using these two phrases to push us to explore more research topics that best matches our interests. Although I have never thought deeply about these concepts, I immediately realized that I could be familiar with them.
“Think outside the box” concept was a pressing issue during my study in the architecture school in Cairo, Egypt. It was always associated with creativity. Some professors introduced the concept as a “genetic” talent but others thought of it as an acquirable skill that comes with practice. I wondered about the precise definition of this mental process but never followed up.
“Thinking outside the box” is always remembered with the nine-dot puzzle; how to connect nine dots with only four straight lines in continuity without lifting the pencil. It is quite challenging! The solution seemed so simple yet sophisticated. Anyone tries to solve this problem will think at first of how to connect them to be a square-like. This is how we perceive the dots according to Gestalt psychology, and actually how we perceive the world around us. We tend to perceive it in a regular, symmetric and simplified manner. Perhaps this can be the best description for the “comfort zone” as well. Besides being safe and cozy, it is regular and simple.
The comfort zone is constructed by mental boundaries that prevent us from discovering what seem to be fearful and unknown. Assumptions, fear of failure, knowledge, culture, regulations, can be considered boundaries, to name a few. In conclusion, both comfort zone and the thinking box are one entity, in my opinion. The questions that remain unanswered in my head are: (1) How to define the boundary of the box? (2) Is the process of “thinking outside the box” a dynamic ongoing process (lifestyle) or is it a well-defined process? What do you think?