out of the box

Contributor(s): Thia James and Janet Kuhnert

1) "Out of the box" is an expression that describes nonconformal, creative thinking. The term is used as an adverb to describe the thinking or as an adjective to describe the ideas. The term is said to derive from a famous puzzle created by early 20th century British mathematician Henry Ernest Dudeney, in which someone is asked to interconnect nine dots in a three-by-three grid by using four straight lines drawn without the pencil leaving the paper. In order to be successful, the puzzle solver has to realize that the boundries of the dot array are psychological. The only way to solve the puzzle is to extend the lines beyond the artificial boundry created by the nine dots. One also thinks of the expression "boxed-in," or having reduced choices. In the fast-paced world of information technology, employers often say they are looking for someone who "thinks out of the box." Older, related but really different terms include blue sky, far out, and off the wall. A variation is "outside the box."

As you might expect, the term "in the box" is sometimes used to describe conformal thinking. For example, in a recent magazine article about MP3 and music pirating, a manager of some music groups is quoted as saying of major label recording companies who have been slow to adapt to the Internet, "They're always thinking inside of the box."

2) "Out of the box" is also used as a synonym for "off the shelf," meaning a ready-made software, hardware, or combination package that meets a need that would otherwise require a special development effort.

This was last updated in September 2005

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I wanted to tell you that you are using the wrong term. It is thinking Outside-the-Box. Out-of-the-box means the exact opposite of what you are trying to tell the reader. Just look it up, it's a classic mistake.
I'd like to second Post 371596. Using "out of the box" synonymous with "outside the box" doesn't make sense. The two are clearly antonymous.
Dear commenters, you are wrong; she is getting it right: think out of the box:
to think about something, or how to do something, in a way that is new, different or shows imagination;
The phrase is "think outside the box," while "out of the box" is a included product feature. Margaret Rouse's entry is just plain incorrect and should be edited or deleted.
PDX, she includes both meanings of the phrase in the entry.