Thinking outside of the box can provide an innovative solution to a sticky problem, however, thinking outside of the box can be a real challenge as we naturally develop patterns of thinking, modeled on the repetitive activities and commonly accessed knowledge we surround ourselves with.

Some years ago an incident occurred where a truck driver who had tried passing under a low bridge caused the truck to become lodged under the bridge. The driver was unable to continue driving through or reverse out. The source of the story is unknown but the lessons are quite valuable.

The story goes that as the truck became stuck, it caused massive traffic problems, which resulted in emergency personnel, engineers, firefighters and the truck drivers gathering to negotiate various solutions to dislodge the truck.

Emergency workers were debating whether to dismantle parts of the truck or chip away at parts of the bridge. Each spoke of a solution, which fit within his or her respective level of expertise.

A boy walking by witnessing the intense debate looked at the truck, at the bridge, then looked at the road and said nonchalantly, “Why not just let the air out of the tires?” to the absolute amazement of all the “experts” trying to unpick the problem.

When the solution was tested the truck was able to easily drive free with only the damage caused by its initial attempt to pass underneath the bridge. The story symbolizes the struggles we face where often times the most obvious solutions are the ones hardest to come by because of the self-imposed constraints we work within.

The problem in Patterns

We naturally develop patterns of thinking modeled on the repetitive activities and commonly accessed knowledge we surround ourselves with. This assists us in quickly applying the same actions and knowledge but prevents us from quickly and easily accessing new ways of seeing, understanding and solving problems which do not fit into these patterns.

Picture combined from photos Courtesy of Steven Damron & Highways Agency. Copyright: CC BY 2.0 (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic). Download or view full resolution for picture 1 and picture 2 (800×600 & 1280 x 850 pixels. respectively)