Nine Box Thinking

One of my favourite problem solving/solution space expanding/(eco)system exploring tools is Nine Box Thinking in time and scale. The method is more than ably described here by my Oxford Creativity colleague Andrew Martin so I will spare you the finer detail.

As I hope you can see from the cartoon it is basically past, present and future [TIME] against sub-system, system and super-system [SCALE]. Anyway a few examples of how it helps you think:

1. While pruning our overgrown hedges and shrubs this afternoon, my wife kept losing her new, all green, secateurs, and I thought aloud, they really should be luminous orange, then you would never lose them. Now think about the manufacturer and his nine box model of secateur manufacture. We make them[ PAST], gardener uses them [PRESENT] then (hopefully) if we camourflage them enough she will lose them in the undergrowth and need to buy another pair [FUTURE]. Brilliant strategic thinking for continued sales.

2. There has just been a National Ecosystem Assessment in the UK, a 2000 page report stacked with the cash equivalent values of elements of the natural environment which the article on the BBC website says ” could reform urban and rural planning”. In a second article yesterday Dr Bob Watson, chief scientist of DEFRA says

What we haven’t recognised in our decision making is the value of our forests, our agricultural land, our mountains, moors and heaths. We’ve taken these things for granted, but what we’re saying now is that we should take this hidden value more explicitly into account when it comes to decision making,”

Now this is precisely why the top three ‘super-system’ boxes are so important to look at the full cost/benefit to the wider ‘system’ and all their implications.

3. I recently met up with a fellow Cognitive Edge practitioner and we were exchanging notes on how we facilitate and more importantly how involved we get in resolving issues and exploring creative ideas. I realised at the end of our conversation that my ideal ‘context free’ approach works beautifully but leaves me completely outside the solution, with little chance of any follow up work to complete the action plan. Do a nine box with ‘facilitate workshop’ at the centre and the future column could contain ‘bring in the facilitator to do some of the actions’ or ‘really value the facilitator’s ideas and input’, instead I appear to set up the ‘luminous secateurs’ single purchase scenario.


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