Creativity Explorer

Inside the Box

Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg (2013)

Inside the Box

In Inside the Box authors Boyd and Goldenberg describe a ‘new’ way to innovation using the Inside-the-box method, what is actually called System Inventive Thinking. Read more about this method here. I have mixed feelings about this book.

On the positive side…

Like many American management books, this book is an easy read with loads of good examples. Inside the Box was my first experience with System Inventive Thinking. I have used the method more often. And I think that SIT is a great method. The authors describe the method well. Very hands on, easy to apply. If you look for an innovation method that will force you to be specific and creative, instead of abstract, you should read the book.

On the negative side…

You should forget all theoretical background they use to support their method. Their argument for thinking Inside the Box is actually an argument in favor of thinking Outside the Box and vice versa. Besides this complete misinterpretation of scientific research, they have also written down false facts.

Boyd and Goldenberg point to J. P. Guilford who, according to them, you have to think outside the box (letting go of goal contraints) to become creative. They use some of Guilford’s research to support this argument. Research of Guilford showed that only 20% of the participants could solve the problem. And, according to the authors, Guilford concluded that you have to go outside the box for creativity. In this interpretation meaning, you have to let go of the constraints of the problem.

Here is what they write in the book:

‘In the early 1970’s, a psychologist named J. P. Guilford was one of the first academic researchers who dared to conduct a study of creativity. One of Guilford’s most famous studies was the nine-dot puzzle.’
‘At the first stages, all the participants in Guilford’s original study (p20) […] only 20% managed to break out of the illusory confinement and contuined their lines in the white space surrounding the dots (p21).


In 1950 Guilford was president of the American Pscychology Association. In his speech he urged for research on Creativity. This was the starting point of research in creativity as such. In the 1970’s Creativity was already well established research field.

Guilford is famous for a lot of contributions. For paving the way for a scientific, psychological approach on creativity, his studies on intelligence and education, his studies on how to measure creativity, and his ideas about diverging and divergent-thinking test. But he is not famous for his research with the nine-dot puzzle.

Fact is, I found no record of Guilford doing research with the nine-dot puzzle. And I did some research. I started with a Google Scholar and Scopus.com research on ‘nine-dot puzzle/problem and Guilford.’ I checked my sources, see referencelist. Nothing on Guilford and his use of this puzzle in his research. At first I thought it was me, because Boyd and Goldenberg write about such a concrete result (20%) there must be a source.

Thus, I sent Boyd and Goldenberg and e-mail in which I requested if they could tell me the source on this study. Goldenberg answered quickly and kindly. He honestely told me they did not have the source, but that got it from a book by Weisberg (1983): ‘Beyond the myths of a Genius.’

So, I sent Weisberg an e-mail, I incooperated the pages from the book in which the authors explain outside-the-box thinking p19-22.
I asked him:

  • If he knows a study in which Guilford found that 20% of the participants were able to solve the nine-dotpuzzle
  • If he knows anything about Guilford and the phrase ‘outside-the-box,
  • And of course, since he wrote about it, if he could send me the article or the paragraph from his book. who also answered quickly and kindly. 

Also Weisberg answered swiftly and kindly. He says the following:

‘I do not know of any research done by Guilford on the 9-dot problem, and I am almost certain that I did not site him in my earlier book. [So] I looked at my book, and there is nothing on Guilford and the 9-dot problem in there. Something is strange.’

‘Also, I do not know of him inventing that phrase.’

What to think of all this?


Of course I conclude that Boyd and Goldenberg did not check the facts correctly. And also their wrong argumentation to give scientific support for there method is worrysome. The fact that such a huge mistakes are allowed in best selling books makes me wonder…. It shows again that we should not blindly believe the next book on creativity that is ‘based on (the latetst) scientific research’. The good news is that there is a nice scientific background on SIT (google Roni Horowitz and creative problem solving in engineering design) and that SIT itself is great method. 

So good writing, great method, manipulating title and false theoretic background.

August 15, 2018Article by: Willemijn Brouwer



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