The 3 box method

When it comes to innovation and creativity, idea generation is a crucial step towards problem solving and driving change. But organizing and managing these ideas in a good way to take them forward can be a challenge.

That’s where the “3 Box Method” comes in. Developed by Vijay Govindarajan, a renowned management thinker, the 3 Box Method offers a simple yet powerful approach to collecting and organizing ideas. Let’s explore how the 3 Box method can help streamline an ideation process and increase your creative execution capabilities.

This is the 3 Box method

The 3 Box approach is a framework that helps individuals and organizations balance the demands of the present (box 1), while letting go of old thinking (box 2) and preparing for the future (box 3). Each box represents a time horizon and a set of activities, enabling a structured approach to idea generation and implementation.

Box 1: Dealing with the present

The first box, Box 1, focuses on managing the present and contains ideas that improve and optimize current operations and strategies.

This box involves identifying incremental improvements, cost-saving measures and efficiency-enhancing ideas that help maintain and strengthen the existing business model. It ensures that day-to-day operations run smoothly while creating room for innovation. It is this box that secures the resources for renewal. You answer the question “What must we continue to do in order to have the resources and opportunities for change?”

Box 2: Forget the past

The second box, Box 2, emphasizes selectively forgetting the past. This means setting aside and ending outdated assumptions, processes and methods that no longer serve a purpose.

This box encourages removing what hinders development and explores ideas that challenge bad things to keep happening. By embracing change and exploring new possibilities, Box 2 enables the freedom to implement future-oriented strategies. You answer the question “What can we stop doing because it prevents us or will prevent us from getting where we want in the long run?”

Box 3: Creating the future

The third box, Box 3, is dedicated to creating the future. It means generating bold, visionary ideas that have the potential to transform the organization or industry.

This box encourages innovation and new business models, technologies or products. While Box 3 ideas may seem risky or unconventional, they have the potential to leapfrog innovation and shape the future landscape. It is these new ideas that we get resources for when we stop with old-fashioned phenomena in box 2. You answer the question “What should we start with to create the new?”.

Process for gathering ideas

The 3 Box method provides a structured approach to idea collection. Start by encouraging idea generation. Allow team members or stakeholders to contribute ideas regardless of box. Feel free to use creative methods that encourage thinking that falls into all the boxes: box 1 (managing the present), box 2 (selectively forgetting the past) and box 3 (creating the future).

Create a collaborative environment that fosters diverse perspectives and encourages creativity.

Idea evaluation and implementation

Once ideas are collected, it is critical to evaluate and prioritize them. Consider factors such as feasibility, potential impact, alignment with organizational goals and resource requirements. Decide which ideas are most feasible and relevant at a given time. Some ideas fit into what we already do and can be implemented immediately (box 1), while others can be reserved for exploration and questioning (box 2) or ideas for long-term creative change (box 3).

Iterative process

The 3 Box method does not have to be a one-off exercise but can be an iterative process. Then visit the boxes regularly and update them as the business landscape develops. Continue to refine and expand ideas in each box, ensuring a continuous flow of innovation as structure creates clarity and understanding of change.


The 3 Box method thus provides a structured framework for collecting and organizing ideas, ensuring a balanced strategy between dealing with the present, selectively forgetting the past and creating the future.

By embracing this approach, individuals and organizations can harness the power of diverse ideas, drive innovation, and position themselves for long-term success.

So, unlock your creative potential, embrace the simple 3 Box approach and pave the way for a future filled with transformative ideas and innovation.