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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.Indeed, the concept enjoyed such strong popularity and intuitive appeal that no one bothered to check the facts.No one, that is, before two different research teams—Clarke Burnham with Kenneth Davis, and Joseph Alba with Robert Weisberg—ran another experiment using the same puzzle but a different research procedure.Both teams followed the same protocol of dividing participants into two groups.The first group was given the same instructions as the participants in Guilford’s experiment.
Although studying creativity is considered a legitimate scientific discipline nowadays, it is still a very young one. One of Guilford’s most famous studies was the nine-dot puzzle.Because they hadn’t, they were obviously not as creative or smart as they had previously thought, and needed to call in creative experts. The nine-dot puzzle and the phrase “thinking outside the box” became metaphors for creativity and spread like wildfire in marketing, management, psychology, the creative arts, engineering, and personal improvement circles.There seemed to be no end to the insights that could be offered under the banner of thinking outside the box.Management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s even used this puzzle when making sales pitches to prospective clients.Because the solution is, in hindsight, deceptively simple, clients tended to admit they should have thought of it themselves.