Think Outside the Box

Apr 10, 2024
A young blonde-haired boy sitting inside a cardboard box and looking outside of it symbolizing thinking outside the box.

Think outside the box is a phrase that is frequently used to encourage people to think differently when faced with a challenge or problem. The phrase refers to the Nine Dots Puzzle in which we are asked to connect nine dots by drawing a continuous line without taking the pen off the page. In case you are wondering, I wasn’t able to solve the puzzle the first time I saw it twenty years ago, and… had to look up the answer again while writing this blog ☹. How quickly we forget.

Scroll to the Cool Tip below to see the answer.

Would you like an approach to thinking outside the box to solve everyday challenges that is easy to remember, draws people in and inspires curiosity and imagination? Try asking generative questions and using positive framing, the two simple practices of Conversations Worth Having. In this week’s Monday Kickstarters session, the creative group used the approach to help a group of librarians to think outside the box about their challenge.

Positive Frame

Name it: I don’t know how to frame a discussion with academic librarians who would like to better understand young adult students.

Flip it: I do know how to frame a discussion with the academic librarians.

Frame it: I am energized and confident facilitating a discussion that uplifts and engages the librarians, and helps them to deepen relationships with the young adults they serve.

Alternate Frames:

  • Engage in a meaningful conversation that deepens relationships with the young adults.
  • Our conversations are facilitated in a way that uplifts our academic librarians. They are energized and ready to engage younger students
  • I am energized and confident facilitating an insightful discussion.

Generative Questions

Once the frame was in place, the group crafted generative questions that could create a conversation worth having, one that works for everyone involved.

Generative Questions for Myself

  • What is most important to me in facilitating this discussion?
  • When have I felt energized and confident about a discussion before? What conditions made that happen?

Generative Questions for the Librarians

  • What does a rewarding relationship with young adult students look like?
  • If the young adults you serve were writing a testimonial about how you and your library have served them, what would you want to read?
  • Name a time when you connected deeply with a student. What happened?
  • Tell us about a time that you felt synergy with the students you assist?
  • When is the last time you learned something new from a younger person either though conversation or observation?
  • How have your interactions with students changed over the years? What parts are similar?
  • When you see young adults genuinely engaged with each other and having a good time, what do you feel is happening?
  • Thinking back on your career, recall a time when you received guidance and support from an older individual and it exceeded your expectations. What made that possible?
  • Remember a time from your own lives when you felt understood by an adult. What was happening?
  • What other organizations work with young adults successfully? What can we learn from them?


Cool Tip!

When creating the positive frame as a group, it is useful to first ask participants for their individual input for the frame. Then, get creative, and draw on the words and ideas within the various frames to construct a final version that inspires curiosity, imagination and interest, and moves the group toward a shared and desired outcome. 

If you were curious about the Nine Dot Puzzle answer, here it is😊

Stavros, J., & Torres, C. (2022).  Conversations worth having. Using appreciative inquiry to fuel productive and meaningful engagement. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Monday Kickstarters

This topic came from our Spring 2024 Monday Kickstarters series, working sessions to figure out how to have a conversation worth having when faced with a tough situation, challenge, or problem with leadership or performance. If you'd like to learn how to have conversations that create meaningful and productive engagement, find a resource, book, game, or course that works for you. 

Shared by: Shared by: Sylvette Wake, a certified Conversations Worth Having and Strategic Conversations Facilitator.

Photo by Anna Shvets: 


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