TBT - How do I know if I'm outside of the box?

Today brings you another twice-told tales as I hit the archives of my previous blogs and rework and retell some posts of yore.

Some time again, I participated in a MOOC on creativity which included a video Dr. Joseph J. Thomas, Professor of Leadership Education at the U.S. Naval Academy, who was speaking about thinking outside of the box and being a smart heretic. Sadly I cannot locate a link to the video now but the impression it left me with I can pass along. 

I’ve heard the phrase “think outside of the box” a million times and you probably have too, but when was the last time you stopped to really think about what that meant. How can you think outside of the box until you examine the box? We all sort of just assume that it means to be creative and come up with a new or novel solution but what about the box? What Thomas said that stuck with me was that the box really represents the current procedures and policies of whatever environment we are talking about. And that until you fully understand the box, you can’t think outside of it.

We assume that the box is the rigid structure we must break free from. We usually hear the phrase in a context where fresh, innovative, creative ideas are needed to break up the norm but this overlooks the fact that there are different modes of creativity. There are solutions that are adaptive versus innovative. There is creativity that is evolutionary versus revolutionary. There are people and organizations that are more naturally freeflowing and those that are more structured. All of those boxes look very different. Think for a moment about an environment that is already very unstructured. If the creative process is too divergent, the answer may be to apply a little structure. Limitations can bring about creative solutions.

Outside of the box is just different than the current box, complimentary to the box. But the solution may still need to work around and within the current box. Outside of the box may be a lid or a new wrapper or another box or ... It’s the missing piece and sometimes the missing piece is a key that unlocks the box and sometimes it’s a key that locks a box.

So from now on when I’m told to think outside of the box, I’m going to first make sure a take a good, hard look at the box itself.