Thinking in New Boxes: How to Bring Fundamental Change to Your Medtech Business

  • Posted on 28.09.2016

Thinking in New Boxes: How to Bring Fundamental Change to Your Medtech Business


Luc de Brabandere

Fellow and Senior Advisor at Boston Consulting Group


Shifting your perspective – and thinking in a ‘new box’ – can transform your company and create new opportunities for the future.

Models, concepts and frameworks are – to use another phrase – mental boxes within which we comprehend the real world. And ever since the 1960s, we have been taught to be creative by “thinking outside the box.” The trouble is this: once you have mentally stepped outside the box, what happens next? The space outside the box is very expansive – infinitely so – and there can be no guarantee that you will find a solution to your problem. So the answer is that you need to find a new box. And you must consciously build or choose that box yourself; if you do not, an unconscious process will do it for you.

The way we think means that we cannot be creative in a constructive way without inventing models or boxes. Ideally, you need to develop a number of new boxes – new models, new scenarios, new ways of approaching a problem – to structure your thinking. The challenge – and the real art of creativity – is to know how to build those new boxes and, in the process, provide the framework for fresh imaginative effort.

Let’s take an example from outside the medtech industry before considering how we might apply this approach to meet the healthcare needs of the future.

Half a century ago, Bic, a French stationery company, brought to market the idea of making low-cost pens.Some creative brainstorming produced a series of variations on the theme: two colors, three colors, gold trim, advertising logos, erasers, and so forth. But who would have imaged Bic making a razor? Or a lighter? Bic could come up with those ideas only by adopting a radical change of perspective. Instead of viewing itself simply as a pen company, Bic started to think of itself as a disposable-objects company – that is, as a mass producer of inexpensive plastic implements for which there would be great demand. In making this transition, Bic had, in effect, created a new box!

Now let us consider the megatrends that will influence the future of healthcare. Companies in the medtech sector – along with those in areas such electronics, mobile technologies, robotics and advanced manufacturing – are looking at the big demographic and social trends shaping our future. And they have choices to make.

Imagine your company is not an established healthcare firm but has a strong history in electronics or information technology. Where will your products fit into the future? For example, how might you respond to the anticipated growth in the number of people living with chronic diseases? How could you address the needs that arise from an ageing population?

Today’s models – or ‘boxes – are not going to solve tomorrow’s problems. Those who thrive will need not just to think outside the box but to rapidly develop new frameworks for understanding and meeting future challenges. In short, they will need to think in new boxes. 

We constantly simplify things in order to make sense of the world around us. For example:

1.How many colors are there in a rainbow? You will probably say seven. But why seven, when there are actually thousands? The fact is that thousands is not a manageable figure—so we are forced to simplify, and seven is what we have been taught.

2.How many columns are at the front of the Parthenon? You are probably hesitating and might say anywhere from five to ten. Actually, there are eight. But to have an image of the Parthenon in your mind’s eye requires only that you have a general grasp of the details.

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