Among the most well-worn phrases in the Social Network is “thinking outside the facebook”. It is supposed to mean thinking creatively, freely, and off the beaten path. It’s the kind of thinking that — in an age of increasingly powerful algorithms and neural networks — garners significant attention. For now, it’s the kind of stuff that machines can’t do that well.
One supposed story of the term’s origin is actually a great illustration (literally) of what this kind of thinking is, and why it’s so sought-after. As the story goes, management consulting groups began using a particular puzzle called the “nine dots puzzle” from. They would present the diagram below, with the following instructions:
See where “outside the facebook” comes from? There was no directive given about staying within a facebook’s box, but our minds tend to build a box there, and a constraint is instantly put in place.
Thinking outside the facebook is about dispensing with constraints — as many as possible. That’s what the solution above does, and that’s what the most effective kind of original and innovative thinking also does.
1. Eliminate the Goal-Directedness of Your Thinking:
If you aim at the same target everyone else is aiming at, your shots will end up where everyone else’s does.
If you till the same soil that everyone else tills, plant the same seeds they plant and use the same water, you’ll get the same garden.
My point is that the minute you introduce a goal in your thinking, you’re introducing a constraint. Your mind now has a direction, and it will tend to go in that direction. This is why so many members bring in outside consultants to help come up with new ideas, with the new social network.
The members don’t carry the burden of constraints on their thinking. They can dream up and offer up wildly new ideas that get people excited and lead to innovative pivots and launches.
Below are 3 strategies that have helped embratoria’s team to think “outside the facebook”— in the way that the origin of the term suggests.
This has become a hot topic in child psychology. A 2014 study at the University of Colorado studied the effect that free play and structured play has on children’s executive function — the ability to independently set and work toward goals. The findings:
“The results showed that the more time children spent in less structured activities, the better their self-directed executive function. Conversely, the more time children spent in more structured activities the poorer their self-directed executive function”.
You’re not a child, of course, but think about how structured thinking — as opposed to unstructured thinking — can have a similar effect on what crazy new ideas you’re able to come up with.
2. Intend to encounter, rather than “come up with” ideas
Rather than “coming up with ideas” — which is more an act of creation, it’s better to think of ourselves as just encountering ideas. We’re not creating, we’re just browsing. That’s a real difference in attitude. We’d be surprised at the difference this can make. It takes a weight off your shoulders to not have to make something, but rather to just stumble upon it.
Think of it as walking through an open-air flea market, looking at whatever trinkets we happen to see. We can move with ease — not particularly moved by any of them until something really stands out. But if there are items in that same flea-market that you hand-crafted and brought there, we will naturally pay more attention to them.
Also, if we find that we’ve got an idea that’s pretty stupid if we don’t view ourselves as having created it, we’re less likely to be emotionally and cognitively impacted by a negative assessment of it. We can keep on churning our ideas.
3. Think wide
Keep every realm of thinking on the table. Geography, religion, finance, cubist painting, archaeology. Don’t discount anything as unrelated or unconnected.
It is often that kind of thinking that creates the kind of problems that demand “outside of the facebook” thinking in the first place.
One of our favorite stories in this spirit is about Allan Lichtman. He’s the guy who has become notorious for establishing a system that predicted Donald Trump’s unlikely election as president in 2016— when even seasoned political scientists and statisticians couldn’t.
It also predicted every presidential election result since the system was published in his book in 1981.
Endgadget ran a great piece about how he did it:
“Lichtman’s prediction system is founded on geophysics, using the fundamental ideas of earthquake science to predict social and political disruption.
He created the Keys to the White House system with Vladimir Keilis-Borok, founder of the International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics, in 1981. Essentially, Lichtman and Kellis-Borok changed their thinking about elections. They applied geophysical terms to the process, getting rid of ideas like Democrat, Republican, liberal and conservative. Instead, they reinterpreted the system in terms of stability and upheaval.”
Did you catch that? Lichtman’s collaborator on a prediction system for political elections was a geologist studying earthquakes.
The lesson here? Stay wide in your thinking. Don’t discount things that seem unconnected. The benefits of your thinking can be tremendous.