There is an interesting turn of phrase used to describe innovative thought:

Thinking outside the box

However when attacking a new problem, the first thing you do is to find the box. The box is the problem domain, the business problem or other set of boundaries.

They may be physical boundaries, or semantic ones. The scope may be based on one of the parts of the Iron Triangle (Time/Money/Quality), or some other metric.

Flipping this on it’s head, if someone comes to you and says that you have no limits and you can create anything you want… does your mind go blank ? Or do you have too many ideas ? Constraints help focus the development.

It seems not that you want to think outside the box, but you want to find the edge of the new box, the one that surrounds your problem. This box then stretches and resizes over time, as functionality is added, taken away, or even put in new boxes. Each box then turns into abstractions which in turn will live in a larger box.

The box is helpful for comprehension as it allows us to abstract concepts and then put them together at a higher level, after all this is how the diagrams for overviews are drawn.

Now, if you excuse me, I have a whole bunch of boxes to look at…

(picture credit: Box 5 by ~Brenda-Starr~, on Flickr)