Do you ever get tired of being asked to “think outside of the box?” It’s such a trite statement. We’re all trying our best to be innovative and creative, but how do we do that in a world that has boxed us in?
We were raised to be constrained and controlled. For example, our elementary teachers taught us to color inside the lines. Our parents told us to become doctors or lawyers because they never achieved their dreams. Our professors taught us to the test, rather than teaching us to challenge the test. Our bosses squash our ideas in those bi-annual “brainstorming sessions,” because they don’t have the time or the where-with-all to understand how we’re thinking—we’re operating as mindless slaves.
What the heck? What’s so exciting about what’s inside that box anyway? Maybe the ugly holiday sweater that you’re grandma gave you? Come on. I’ll agree that thinking outside the box requires that we have a box in the first place. We need the content and context to move outside of it to create new worlds. Plus the control and structure to be inspired, because in some capacity it gives us the thrill of breaking the rules.
So, let’s drag ourselves out of the box kicking and screaming. Let’s challenge the thought that Apple is the most innovative company in the world. Look at the iPhone—it’s become a predicable package of sorts. What about 3M? Their management team requires that 20% of their products be generated by new product development. Now that’s an empowering opportunity to introduce disruptive change.
We can’t just watch the MBA’s from the sidelines anymore. And we can’t wait for someone to show us the way. We have to push ourselves to be assertive in meetings and breed the ideas of the future. Think about Dr. Suess’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
This is what you should consider:
Crush the Box
Although the concept of the box is necessary to understand, the idea that you can move beyond it is much more important. And the frustration of not being able to push the envelope is exponential. So why not challenge the norm? Refold or redesign the box. Force yourself to condense thoughts, ideas, and words that sometimes hold us back. Think in statements of 10 words or less—almost like a poet. You don’t need more than that to convey your point of view. And if you can do that—especially in front of the big wigs—you might just win the battle.
We read about 2-5 online, print, journal articles, or blogs per week. Is that enough? Well, when you think about motivating yourself or your people it’s probably not. If you’re devoting your time to reading industry journal articles, forget about it, you’re reading about history. You need to read broadly, move out of your industry, look at different companies and technologies to create something new. Look at new patents, determine what’s on the horizon, rather than looking at what’s already in the marketplace. Reading, outside your comfort zone, will give you the impetus to develop new, abstract notions, which may lead you to great new horizons.
Writing the first sentence, of anything, is the hardest thing to do. You have to figure out how to change the pattern of your thinking. Start at the end product, and then move forward from there. You might find that the solutions to the problems are easier to develop first, than thinking about the nonsense that you need to fix.
Ask a Kid for Advice
My 9-year-old boy gives me great ideas about everything. The way I dress, the way I negotiate with my 4 year old, the way I think about the world. You name it and he has a resolution. A child’s mind is unobstructed by the minutia that bogs us down. They are real and authentic. I needed a product development idea just the other day and he told me, why don’t you ask kids like me—we’re the ones that are going to buy it anyway. Genius. From the mouth of babes.
When it comes down to it, we’re the ones that can manipulate the status quo. Thinking outside of the box isn’t like hitting a switch that allows a new idea to just turn on. It’s really about the will and desire to think differently. And with that desire, comes the ability to progress. So pick up the crayon and color outside of the lines. The distortion of that impulse might just lead you to a path of innovation and creativity.