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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.

The idea went viral (via 1970s-era media and word of mouth, of course).

Overnight, it seemed that creativity gurus everywhere were teaching managers how to think outside the box.

That is, direct and explicit instructions to think outside the box did not help.

That this advice is useless when actually trying to solve a problem involving a real box should effectively have killed off the much widely disseminated—and therefore, much more dangerous—metaphor that out-of-the-box thinking spurs creativity.

There seemed to be no end to the insights that could be offered under the banner of thinking outside the box.Today many people are familiar with this puzzle and its solution.In the 1970s, however, very few were even aware of its existence, even though it had been around for almost a century.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.

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