Police Psychology | Thinking Outside the Box

Posted: March 1, 2016 in Rank and Leadership
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Police Psychology | Thinking Outside the Box


Police psychology would tell us that sometimes you have to “think out of the box.” I wanted meatballs the other day! I got it in my brain to make meatballs, and my 9-year old daughter loves meatballs, so I wanted to make police psychology, pasta with meatballsmeatballs. I didn’t want to make beef meatballs with spaghetti in tomato sauce one of her favorites; I didn’t want to make Swedish meatballs with gravy, but I had this urge to make a meatball, lighter with a different taste. Maybe in a white wine sauce. I was driving so I had the luxury of being able to think, something that I don’t get to do often (parents will understand that). I got thinking “out of the box” of spaghetti and meatballs and there was a lot of room out there. Veal would make it lighter, and replace most of the parsley flakes with sage, I was on the road to making something totally unique. I ended up with radiatori pasta with veal meatballs made with sage and fresh Parmesan in a white wine, Gorgonzola and walnut cream roux. It was delicious. (recipe below)

How do you “think out of the box?” I mean life is a series of problems that must be solved, how do you go away from the routine solutions and come up with something that is out there? How do you make something ordinary into something impossibly creative? How does a little Italian girl from New York City, which must have a million little Italian girls, all of a sudden have outlandish tastes, wear an egg to the Grammy’s, and become Lady Gaga? It’s summed up in one word….

Experimenting Outside the Box

There was a famous study done by Guilford in the 70’s where he gave people a 9-dot drawing with the directions to “draw 4 lines to connect the dots and do not lift the nine dots, police psychologypencil off the paper”. Actually the diagram was from the turn of the century, as in 1900’s. It required drawing the lines outside of the box of dots then it was relatively easy to work out. About twenty per cent could do the drawing. He figured eighty per cent couldn’t “think outside the box” to complete the task. The figure went viral (in the 70’s that meant something totally different than now — it was sent it around by snail mail in letters).  

A follow-up study by other researchers showed that even when the experimenters told the people the secret of extending the lines outside the box, only five percent more of the participants completed the project. They concluded that thinking outside the box really isn’t affected by giving people directions, but it is inherent in people. Essentially those twenty percent of us who think outside the box are freaks.

There is much written about thinking outside the box, particularly in the business literature, which calls outside the box thinking “a paradigm shift.” When you see something totally in a different way, you are making the paradigm shift. And further, the literature suggests you can be taught to think this way of thinking. Brainstorming is a way to teach this method, so they say. Just come up with ideas and don’t place any value on whether they solve your problems. Just blurt them out and don’t think as to whether they have anything to do toward your goal. You essentially have to turn off your internal editor. In my experience, some people take to brainstorming, but most don’t. They have to value every suggestion as it comes out, even when you tell them not to. I would say only about 1 in 5 can really brainstorm effectively. (20% for those keeping track).

Another way they teach is to take something really old, or something from a different field and apply it to the problems at hand, or the things for which you want an answer. Start with a concept and make it travel to a different dimension by using the old principles to help solve your problem. You may not find a perfect match, but keep working it and something else will come along.   Knute Rockne supposedly got a very successful football formation, thus creating the “Four Horsemen,” from a dance routine when he took his players for some culture. I did this with shot-peening, the theory of relativity and the time management matrix, etc. This gets your mind thinking about something new and something creative. I would say about 1 in 5 person can do this also. (Damn another 20%, and probably the same 20%).

A final technique is to make a concerted effort to think about the far distant future. What convenience would the future bring that we don’t have today.  Sci-Fi something and make it so impossible that it could never happen. Then work backwards and figure out what it would take to make it happen. I’d like a computer database of problems and techniques that I could just type something in and get the answer. Type in depression and the words and a few techniques would pop up.  I’d like a meal maker that you could push a button, put in a pill and a burger would be created. I’d like a place where you could just travel all the time and meet people and enjoy the sites. I once wished for a channel that would just play rock music videos when I was in college in the mid-70’s, in fact even wrote up a business plan for it for a class. RTV, I was going to call it. There was a lot of disappointment when some of the kids in that class found out I didn’t open MTV when I moved to New York. Think of the future and maybe something creative will come of it.

The One Word for Thinking Outside the Box

I promised the one word for thinking out of the box — MEATBALLS!  It all boils down to meatballs. See, we are all creative and outside the box thinkers when we are young. That is why so many artists and songwriters are young. Our young lives are dynamic and we are constantly changing. Then somewhere it starts to hit us. There is criticism behind the doors of adulthood. There is people that don’t like anything new and in-the-box-thinkers that destroy the creativity of our youth. I knew when I made veal meatballs, it had a likelihood of tasting really bad. I figured sage was paired with veal in saltimbocca in Rome, and Parmesan cheese always tasted good on saltimbocca so I gave it a shot. The meatball became a canvas for my being creative, like in my youth. Meatballs was my daughter’s choice…thinking outside the box made a delicious meal. I once did an entire therapy session for an English major, turned cop, entirely in Haiku. Yep, 5-7-5 syllables. “You need a warm place, where the stillness is quieting, can think for yourself.” “I am happy doc, when I can think for myself, you are quite correct.” He was missing writing and now does it just about every day.

When you are an outside the box thinker, you are going to be unhappy a lot. Some people want to rein you in, some people don’t like unconventional thought. You have to deal with that. It seems twenty percent think outside the box normally, but I bet that amount is much smaller, closer to five percent. I have seen many of you who have written for this blog awaken the out of the box life. However, I believe that you can become an out of the box thinker by practicing and saying the hell with the criticism of others. So, don’t be afraid to think out of the box. Now enjoy your youth, even if it took you 50 years to find it again!


Blog Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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I don’t cook with recipes so you are on your own for amounts, but I will try this one. I took around a pound of ground veal, about ten chopped sage leaves, 2 eggs, a little parsley flakes, chopped scallions, a lot of Parmesan cheese shredded, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Form into meatballs and baked them at 375 degrees until done. I melted butter and put flour in for a roux. Added first white wine, reduce, then cream, reduce, then some chicken stock. Reducing after each liquid. Crumbled up some gorgonzola cheese, not too much, threw that in. I hit with butter to finish. Salt and Pepper. Heavy pepper. ¾ pound of a pasta like penne, radiatori, farfalle, ruote, oriecchette, gemelli, oooh I bet this would be good with gnocchi! Mangia!

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