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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.
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.
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It was an appealing and apparently convincing message.At the first stages, all the participants in Guilford’s original study censored their own thinking by limiting the possible solutions to those within the imaginary square (even those who eventually solved the puzzle).Even though they weren’t instructed to restrain themselves from considering such a solution, they were unable to “see” the white space beyond the square’s boundaries.Solving this problem requires people to literally think outside the box.Yet participants’ performance was not improved even when they were given specific instructions to do so.