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Only 20 percent managed to break out of the illusory confinement and continue their lines in the white space surrounding the dots.
The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box.
Solving this problem requires people to literally think outside the box.
Yet participants’ performance was not improved even when they were given specific instructions to do so.
Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box.Because they hadn’t, they were obviously not as creative or smart as they had previously thought, and needed to call in creative experts. The nine-dot puzzle and the phrase “thinking outside the box” became metaphors for creativity and spread like wildfire in marketing, management, psychology, the creative arts, engineering, and personal improvement circles.There seemed to be no end to the insights that could be offered under the banner of thinking outside the box.In other words, the difference could easily be due to what statisticians call sampling error.
Let’s look a little more closely at these surprising results.
At the first stages, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square (even those who eventually solved the puzzle).