We often hear the challenge to “think outside the box.”
However, researchers have proven that thinking inside the
box is far more valuable in generating practical ideas
that can be implemented immediately as opposed to
HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: Employees in any organization have
the capacity to create breakthrough ideas if (A) given the
opportunity and (B) the process is structured correctly.
The concept behind the researchers’ approach to
brainstorming is to pose concrete questions that focus the
participants at a brainstorming session, rather than
asking generic questions about how to make a product
bigger, smaller, lighter, heavier, more rugged, etc.
Researchers created these concrete questions by reverse
engineering existing products/services to find the
specific questions that led to the original
Samples of these concrete questions are:
1) How are people using our product in ways we never
2) What is the biggest hassle in purchasing our product?
3) Which customers could become major users if only we
could remove one barrier?
As an example, question #1 above led to the development of
mountain bikes when leaders in the bicycle industry began
asking why people were tearing up traditional bikes.
If you would like to read more about this approach to
creativity, you can find it in the article, “Breakthrough
Thinking From Inside The Box,” by Kevin P. Coyne, Patricia
Gorman Clifford, and Renee Dye, Harvard Business Review,
The article contains a list of 21 great questions for
generating new product ideas as well as a sample logic
tree for reverse engineering strategic questions for your
Here is a link to a PDF version of this article: