Boundary riding

Open to ideas and using them to generate new perspective

While we all strive in some way to be original thinkers, we are by and large more aware of our limitations. We do however value a fresh perspective and aside from the cliché of thinking outside the box we, are happy to be free from our constraints and appreciate it when others help us to look at things anew.

Often corporate and startup cultures are plagued by communications, drowning in emails to which senders demand immediate replies and being involved in meetings of questionable value – effectively siphoning the oxygen from the room in a need for always-on multitasking.

By acknowledging ourselves, our limitations and our environments we then need to be clear that we are looking to go beyond ‘good enough’ and look for something new

We know ourselves to be creatures of habit –prone to “insufficiently adjust” (Epley and Golovich, 2004) to new information, leading us to rely too heavily on past information or established ways of doing things. We can also fall foul of the backfire effect  (Nyhan and Reifler, 2010) where a new idea and/or contradictory evidence leads us to become even stronger in our initial beliefs.

By acknowledging ourselves, our limitations and our environments we then need to be clear that we are looking to go beyond ‘good enough’ and look for something new. As Edward de Bono put it in ‘Lateral thinking’ in 1973:

“Normally one is only taught to think about things until one gets an adequate answer. One goes on exploring while things are unsatisfactory but as soon as they become satisfactory one stops. And yet there may be an answer or an arrangement of information that is far better than an adequate one”.

With this in mind I’ve been interested both in stimulating idea generation within business and challenging the existing thought processes. Either by understanding the end user’s perspective or consulting experts in a boundary industry, discussing solutions with those who may naturally approach the problem in a different way can be effective.

Originally a malarial syrup Gin and tonic exemplifies how developments in one industry can benefit another – if not always intentionally.

The key with boundary experts is to highlight an area of interest then step back from the solution by creating a brief that individuals and teams can work on independently. On its own this can produce great ideas but the key ingredient is to run the brief in parallel – using this approach to stimulate the debate.  Key is matching the thinking to where it could be most effective, even if the thinker themselves is not aware of their originality.

If so I’m certain we can expect a wider source of innovations and ideas, as well as a few happy accidents. From the culinary benefits of the microwave (discovered as corn kernels popped near the dish of a radar scientist) to the humble gin and tonic (originally a malarial syrup) the benefits of thinking about things differently and collaborating, increase our collective appetite for innovation.

Mindset reminder

  • There are lots of barriers to new ideas and new ways of thinking about innovation
  • Bringing in boundary thinking is effective and can aid open innovation and more relaxed social enterprise models


  • De Bono, E, (2009) "Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity". Penguin.
  • Epley, N. and Gilovich, T. (2004) "The Anchoring-and-Adjustment Heuristic: Why the Adjustments are Insufficient". Psychological Science, 17 (4) :311-318.
  • Nyhan, B. and Reifler, J. (2010) "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions". Political Behavior 32 (2): 303–330.


Ben Fehnert