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Out Side The BOX

by Karla Brandau, CSP

The VP of Research & Development, Tom Randall, walked into the conference room to start the brainstorming meeting of senior managers at Funky Fun Ice Cream Bars. They desperately needed new ideas to keep their ice cream bars from melting so quickly in heat.

He started the meeting with these words:  "We just have to come up with some creative ideas for keeping our Funky Fun Ice Cream Bars from melting so fast when they are sold in the Southern Region. The Chairman of the Board wants our ideas by noon. Okay...give your ideas to me."

He looked into blank faces. There was a nervous quiet in the room. No one spoke.

Have you had a similar experience? 

Consider starting outside of the box. Let's pretend that Tom walked into the room with a confident calmness about him. With a magic marker, he drew a dot on the board similar to the one below. 

Then he said, "What is this?"

After a pause, someone said in a tone of voice that said dummy, "It's a dot on a poster board."

"You're getting close. Anyone else see this differently?" Tom asked.

"It could be a tunnel."

"Maybe a peek hole in a fence."

"Naw, it's a squashed bug."

"I think it is the top of telephone pole."

Before Tom knew it, he had 10 to 15 ideas about what this big black magic marker spot on the paper really was. (Tip: don't use a red marker unless you want blood to be part of the answer.)

After Tom got the group warmed up, he asked the question again but added some imagery.

"Imagine you are in Atlanta, Georgia. It is August. You are at the Ted (Turner Field) taking in a Braves game. You and your son are sweltering in the heat and decide to buy a couple of our Funky Fun Ice Cream Bars. You both take that first bite. Oh, the cool refreshing relief. Before you get back to your seats, however, the thing is dripping all down your clothes and leaving a trail anyone could follow. The next day when you walk into work at Funky Fun Ice Cream, you start immediately on some ideas to keep the ice cream bar from melting so quickly. What ideas would you be working on?"

Do you think this quick opener would make a difference in the kind of responses and ideas you could generate?

Whatever your problem might be, try the creative approach and get your meeting participants thinking before you try to get ideas out of them.

Remember the two simple steps:

1. Have something creative and fun for them to do that will get them thinking outside of the box.

2. Create your question with vivid imagery.

They'll come up with creative ideas like give them gloves to hold the ice cream bars with the that radiate cold to keep the bar cold. Make the gloves insulated on the inside so the fingers don't get frozen.

Ten Sample Starters Just For You

1. The Many Shapes in a Square

Divide this square into four equal parts in as many different ways as you can:


Possible Answers:


2. The Bug In the Box.

Is this bug on the inside or the outside of the box?

Answer: It depends on your perspective.

3. Double Meaning Headlines.

Get the participants laughing by double meanings. Just look in any newspaper and you are sure to find two or three funny headlines.

Something Went Wrong In Jet Crash Expert Says

Teacher Strikes Idle Kids

Eye Drops Off Shelf

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery -- Hundreds Dead

4. Riddles.

Q. What do you get when you combine the Godfather with a lawyer?

A. An offer you can't understand.

Q. How does a crazy man make it through the forest?

A. He takes the psycho path.


5. Word Puzzles.

Make a word puzzle out of problems you want challenging answers for. Divide the attendees into two teams and see who can find the most words in 10 minutes. Be sure to award prizes.  

6. Inspiring Stores.

Tell them an inspiring story about how creativity resulted in a triumph. This picture shows Dick Fosbury who combined physics and engineering principles to create the "Fosbury Flop." People initially laughed at him but his creativity won him a Gold Medal for the high jump in the 1968 Olympics. 


7. Flash Back To Childhood.

Give them each a piece of paper and have them make a paper airplane. Award prizes for the one that flies the farthest, has the best design, made the most loops, etc.

8. Math Puzzles.

Fishing: Four men went fishing. They caught six fish altogether. One man caught three, another caught two, one caught one, and one didn't catch anything. Which man caught how many fish? What did each of the fishermen use for bait?

1. The one who caught two fish wasn't Sammy nor the one who used worms.

2.  The one who used the flatfish didn't catch as many as Fred.

3. Dry flies were the best lure of the day, catching three fish.

4. Torkel used eggs.

5. Sammy didn't use the flat fish.

ANSWER: Fred, using worms, caught one fish. Sammy, using dry flies, caught three fish. Torkel, using eggs, caught two fish. Joe, using flatfish, caught no fish at all.

9. Mind Stretchers

The Wolf, The Goat, and the Cabbage

You are traveling through difficult country, taking with you a wolf, a goat and a cabbage. All during the trip the wolf wants to eat the goat, and the goat wants to eat the cabbage, and you have to be careful to prevent either calamity.

You come to a river and find a boat which can take you across, but it's so small that you can take only one passenger at a time - either the wolf, or the goat, or the cabbage.

You must never leave the wolf alone with the goat, nor the goat alone with the cabbage.

So, how can you get them all across the river?

Answer: Take the goat across. Go back. Take the wolf across. Bring the goat back. Take the cabbage across. Go back for the goat. Then the goat is never alone with either the wolf or the cabbage.

10.   String Along

Start by stressing that everyone in the room is dependent on the others. To illustrate your point, ask participants to identify someone in the room they depend on for success.

The first person is given a ball of string and picks out someone she/he has identified to throw it to. The person throws the ball of string at the co-worker and states the nature of that dependency.

Continue the process as time permits. As the entire group gets "Tied" together, restate the need to work together to solve the current problem.

Karla works with organizations that want to benefit from confident workers, synergistic dialogue and innovation.  She is the president of People Skills International, Inc and can be reached at 
1 770 923 0883  E-mail
[email protected] or visit

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