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Yet participants’ performance was not improved even when they were given specific instructions to do so.

Because they hadn’t, they were obviously not as creative or smart as they had previously thought, and needed to call in creative experts. The nine-dot puzzle and the phrase “thinking outside the box” became metaphors for creativity and spread like wildfire in marketing, management, psychology, the creative arts, engineering, and personal improvement circles.

The symmetry, the beautiful simplicity of the solution, and the fact that 80 percent of the participants were effectively blinded by the boundaries of the square led Guilford and the readers of his books to leap to the sweeping conclusion that creativity requires you to go outside the box.

The idea went viral (via 1970s-era media and word of mouth, of course).

In the 1970s, however, very few were even aware of its existence, even though it had been around for almost a century.

If you have tried solving this puzzle, you can confirm that your first attempts usually involve sketching lines inside the imaginary square.

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