Out-of-the-box solutions?

中国日报网 2014-12-30 12:35



Out-of-the-box solutions?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “They made researchers look for out-of-the-box solutions for problems that, till then, appeared unsolvable.” Out-of-the-box solutions?

My comments:

To paraphrase:

The researchers were creative enough to try brand new measures which enabled them to solve age-old problems.

How did the researchers come up with these so called out-of-the-box solutions?

They thought outside the box, that’s how, and went for something completely new.

The box, you see, is any container to put things in. It’s an enclosure – of limited space and contents. There’s only so much you can do within those limits, of course.

Outside the box?

That’s open space, with unlimited potential for imagination and creativity.

The box metaphorically stands for a closed mind, or conventional ideas and ways of doing things.

In other words, the box contains the same old, same old.

To think outside the box is, on the other hand, not to be restrained by the old traditional ways of doing things but be able to seek brand new measures in order to solve old problems.

A Chinese example of this kind outside-the-box or lateral or divergent thinking is the legend of Zhuge Liang (181-234), one of the smartest military strategists of the Three Kingdoms period. He once was ordered to produce 100,000 pieces of arrows in a matter of days. With production capabilities being the way they were, it just was impossible to hammer out such a number of arrows in such a limited time. No doubt such an order, a tall order you may say, would find most people at their wit’s end. All they could do was gather all the hammer smiths they could gather and watch them fail to meet the target number.

Zhuge did something extra clever. He decided to invade a riverside enemy fort with boats full of straw soldiers on a foggy day.

The long and short of the story is that enemies soldiers mistaking straw men as real shot all their arrows onto them. Upon sailing home, Zhuge had people pick out all the arrows from the straw soldiers and, you know what, he had even more arrows than he asked for.

All right?

Alright, here are present-day examples of people who think or need to think outside the box:

1. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to tap Silicon Valley innovation to combat global warming, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Monday at Google’s headquarters the first federal grants for high-risk, high-reward clean-tech ventures – including revolutionary technologies like using bacteria to create gasoline.

“We are trying to hit home runs, not base hits,” Chu said. “These are out-of-the-box approaches.”

The administration’s initiative drew cheers from the valley’s clean-technology community, which sees federal funding playing a critical role in getting basic research off the ground, paving the way for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to take those ideas and turn them into multibillion-dollar companies.

“This is going toward more fundamental, early-stage research — something venture capitalists may not be interested in,” said Herman Lopez, director of materials development at Hayward-based Envia Systems, which garnered a $4 million grant for its work to create high-density lithium-ion batteries for hybrid vehicles, electric cars and electronic gadgets.

Chu made his announcement at the Googleplex in Mountain View, signaling that the Obama administration is looking to duplicate with clean tech the kind of convention-breaking ideas Silicon Valley – and the innovative search engine company – is known for in other areas of technology.

- At Google, Chu announces grants for ‘out-of-the-box’ global warming projects, MercuryNews.com, October 26, 2009.

2. The earthquake of 2011 was the most powerful to have hit Japan, resulting in more than 15,000 deaths and affecting several industries.

Furthermore, the earthquake and resulting tsunami affected several nuclear power plants, resulting in a nuclear scare after radiation levels rose in the surrounding areas.

Joi Ito sees profound changes taking place in the country as a result of this natural disaster, citing protests regarding the nuclear power situation as an example.

“The Japanese seem to have more civic energy than ever before,” he says.

Lisa Katayama has close experience of this.

The Tokyo raised journalist founded the Tofu Project, which connects entrepreneurs, innovators and business leaders in Japan and the US through a series of events.

She has seen more interest in entrepreneurship and from a wider range of people. Ms Katayama sees the fallout of the earthquake as being a key catalyst to this process.

“It comes from survival, and needing to survive,” she says.

Her documentary We Are All Radioactive follows a community of surfers rebuilding a coastal town in the aftermath of the earthquake. She has been in close touch with people in the northern coastal regions of the country and seen people starting their own ventures.

One example is the farmer Ishimori, who appears in the documentary measuring radiation levels.

“He bought a radiation detection machine and is single-handedly trying to help other farmers see whether their crops are radiated, it’s very entrepreneurial,” Ms Katayama says.

The Tofu Project aims to put him in touch with the right people and resources during their next event in October.

“Japanese people have always traditionally really trusted the government to take care of them,” Ms Katayama says, “or they’ve worked in an industry that’s been sustainable and fine, like farming or fishing.”

“Now they can’t do that anymore because of the earthquake. I think it’s forcing people to think outside of the box.”

- Japan: Entrepreneurs spur out-of-the-box thinking, BBC.co.uk, October 14, 2012.

3. Job search is the most critical period of anybody’s lifetime. With bills to pay and families to support, the urgency to land a good offer right after your begin your job search is essential. However, the tenure of this job search period is unpredictable. Some people land jobs within weeks and for some it may take months. Which is why, a few out of the box job search tips might come in handy for people in the same situation! These tips basically help you explore the world that lives beyond the regular 9-5.


Many people flirt with the idea of telecommuting, but when it comes down to their job search, they stray from a new way of thinking. Telecommuting jobs may offer some—or all—remote work options, but they are very similar to their full-time, in-office counterparts. Try using “telecommuting” in your job search to open up more opportunities.


Yes, being a freelancer can be scary when you have never done so before. There are a lot of regulations and stipulations to follow, but freelance jobs also offer a whole world of opportunities. Some freelance jobs are very similar to their employee counterparts, yet other freelance jobs give immense control to the freelancer. Plus, a lot of freelance jobs could lead to more permanent positions if you so choose. Read about how to start a Freelance Career and make money from it.


Part-time jobs should not be discarded just because they are part-time. If you aren’t looking for part-time work, you could always consider two different part-time jobs. Additionally, just as freelance jobs can lead to more permanent positions, part-time jobs sometimes open the door to full-time positions. Don’t forget that many part-time jobs also offer benefits!


When you need a change, temporary is the way to go. Maybe you are looking for a little extra cash, you have a project lined up for a later date, or maybe you just want to keep a little variety in your life. Searching for temporary jobs is a great way to job search out of the box!

Geographical Location:

Many job seekers, when searching online, forget to simply search by their location. Everyone knows what their title should be, but unfortunately businesses do not follow a manual for job titles. Searching by location can open possibilities for transfers, telecommuting options, as well as new ideas for job titles.

- 5 Tips For Out of the Box Job Search, Jobiety.com, February 18, 2014.





About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Coming to a head?

A long shot?

Nature of the beast?

Caught up in the moment?

Power play?

Brick and mortar


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:祝兴媛)


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