How to Think Outside of the Box in Business

Table of Contents

Blue ocean out-of-the-box thinking.
Have you been told to think creatively? Leaders often ask their teams for creative solutions to complex problems. You’ve heard it. Though cliche, thinking outside the box is accurate. Thinking creatively means solving problems differently. It demands creative problem-solving. Thinking outside the box means seeking solutions not evident to conventional thinkers.

Well, how do we think outside the box?

Blue Ocean strategy’s systematic approach and proven tools can solve this problem. As you’ll see, a blue ocean mindset and out-of-the-box thinking are the same. Blue ocean thinking is out-of-the-box thinking.

Do you feel boxed in? Blue ocean strategy provides many ways to think creatively, like a blue ocean strategist.

This article examines blue ocean strategist thinking. We’ll discuss methods for systematic creative thinking. We’ll also examine innovative problem-solving organizations.

First, define out-of-the-box thinking.

What is out-of-the-box thinking?

Blue ocean thinking means thinking outside the box. Blue ocean strategists and thinkers think outside the box.

Blue ocean strategists don’t fall for the obvious. They adopt a perspective that challenges long-held beliefs and exposes the self-imposed limits we set.

Blue ocean strategists see opportunities instead of constraints from market-competing logic to blue oceans of new opportunities.

Do you think outside of the box? Do you possess a blue ocean strategy?

If you want to learn to think outside the box to create new opportunities for a company or yourself, the following questions will challenge your current approach.

Four business out-of-the-box questions:

1) Do you change industry conditions or accept them?

If you’re creative, you won’t accept industry standards. You’ll see what others don’t—that firms created industry conditions. Industries change. Blue Ocean thinkers overcome obstacles and change the business landscape. Avoid industry logic. Instead, your blue ocean strategy shapes the structure.

2) Do you beat or ignore the competition?

Why let the competition set your strategy if you no longer accept industry conditions? Blue Ocean thinkers look beyond the competition rather than benchmarking and improving its best practices. Your strategy will resemble your competitors if you focus on them. Instead of competing, focus on what buyers value.

3) Do you create new demand or fight for existing customers?

Blue Ocean strategists go beyond customer satisfaction. Red ocean competition is zero-sum. Market-competing companies share the wealth. Competition reduces profit and growth. However, uncontested market space, not a shrinking profit pool, offers growth opportunities. A blue ocean perspective and out-of-the-box thinking can help you see how your product or service can provide unmatched value and attract new customers.

4) Are differentiation and cost either/or?

Most people think differentiation requires spending more. They accept that cost-cutting reduces value. Thoughts differ. You pursue differentiation and low cost as an outsider. Blue ocean strategists pursue differentiation and low cost simultaneously. Blue ocean thinkers do both.

How to Be a Blue Ocean Strategist in a Post-pandemic World by Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne explains how a blue ocean mindset can find hidden opportunities during the Covid-era economic crisis.

Outside-the-box advantages

Out-of-the-box thinking has many benefits. Many powerful blue ocean strategy examples demonstrate the value of challenging conventional thought, breaking the value-cost tradeoff, and finding innovative solutions to existing problems. Apple’s motto is “Think differently.” The blog Think Different: Apple Blue Ocean Formula for Success examines Apple’s strategic thinking.

Blue ocean tools and Frameworks for systematic innovation

Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne developed powerful and comprehensive analytic tools and frameworks to help you think outside the box and generate new ideas regularly.

Let’s see how two tools can open a blue ocean.

The Buyer Utility Map turns problems into opportunities.
You, however, are a nonconformist. You see challenges as growth opportunities.

Imagine if you could identify these pain points, understand how they limit the appeal and size of your industry, and turn them into value-creating opportunities.

The buyer utility map, one of many blue ocean tools that can help you think outside the box, shows how your industry limits demand by creating pain points for current and potential buyers. The map shows where and how to create blue oceans of uncontested market space.

As shown below, Groupe SEB used the buyer utility map to think outside the box with excellent results.

Demand Creation—The Three Tiers of Noncustomers

As we saw earlier, most people naturally put customers first. Another perspective is out-of-the-box thinking.

Noncustomers before customers? These are noncustomers. Why compete for your industry’s customers when you can reach a vast ocean of noncustomers who could benefit from your service or product but have never considered it?

How do you find noncustomers? How can noncustomers become customers? Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne’s three noncustomer tiers help you achieve both.

Learn how the tool can help you find demand outside your industry in our noncustomers article.

Examples of business and life innovation

Business creativity

Groupe SEB, a French multinational, created blue oceans by inverting industry logic.

SEB: Oil-free fries

The Actify French fry maker exemplifies innovation. In a 10%-shrinking market, Groupe SEB’s French fry makers struggled.

Groupe SEB found two industry-accepted facts using the buyer utility map. French fries must be fried. Frying uses oil. Cooking oil was expensive and dangerous when hot, so the industry overlooked many issues. Cleanup and disposal were laborious. So much oil was unhealthy and fattening.

Groupe SEB rethought the issue. Groupe SEB focused on making tasty, healthy fries without frying them in oil rather than making the best fryer.

ActiFry, a new French fry maker, made two pounds of fries with one tablespoon of oil, 40% fewer calories, and 80% less fat.

Any conductor would need more funds, professional musicians, and logistical issues to form an orchestra in Iraq.

Paul MacAlindin is an exceptional conductor: a blue ocean strategist and creative thinker.

In 2008, Iraq had no music schools. All the players were self-taught, and their instruments needed to be better and unmaintained.

MacAlindin knew the orchestra couldn’t copy other orchestras’ strategies to succeed. It needed more resources, talent, and reputation.

“Essentially, we had no chance of being taken seriously. Despite the hardships, we were determined. Blue ocean’sOcean strategy and shift solved our problems. Minis competed with Rolls Royces. We couldn’t just copy their strategy if we wanted to succeed.”

MacAlindin and the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq used blue ocean frameworks to prioritize actions and values that would make a difference and eliminate inefficient ones.

Sky News called the orchestra “The Bravest Orchestra in the World” after MacAlindin’s unconventional approach led to dozens of performances.

Exercise for creativity

Buyer utility map blank template. It will reveal industry issues. Pain points hinder utility buyers.

1) Imagine how buyers feel from purchase to disposal.

2) Ask yourself what the biggest obstacle to utility is at each stage. Which buyer experience cycle stage hinders customer productivity the most? Why this block?

3) Complete the buyer utility map. X each pain point.

4) What does your completed buyer utility map show?

5) Are these pain points limiting how your customers use your product or service?

6) Could you remove these utility barriers?

Our online course and workbook show you how to identify buyer pain points and turn them into value-added opportunities.

These books encourage creativity.

Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Ocean Shift by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, strategy professors and management thinkers are great books for thinking outside the box.

Blue Ocean Strategy is one of the most influential strategy books. The authors analyze 150 strategic moves from over 100 years across 30 industries to demonstrate that lasting success comes from creating “blue oceans”—untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.

Blue Ocean Strategy uses innovative thinking to make competitors irrelevant. It provides principles and tools for organizations to think outside the box and create and capture blue oceans.

Blue Ocean Shift is the follow-up to Blue Ocean Strategy and the ultimate guide to unconventional thinking. The book provides a step-by-step process to create your blue ocean.

Creative solutions await.

Life requires problem-solving. How can I think outside the box and create significant ideas when solving problems, especially in business? How can I solve this issue creatively? How can I create innovative business solutions that boost my company?

After reading this article, we hope you’ll explore blue ocean thinking to find opportunities in your business and life.

Think creatively? Want to learn?

The Blue Ocean Practical Introduction, our flagship online course, has helped many business executives, managers, and entrepreneurs create new market space by helping them think outside the box.

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