Think Outside of the Box? Ugh…

Think. You’ve seen them. I recently saw another post on LinkedIn that was centered around business jargon. It is funny to read the phrases and colloquialisms used in the professional world. This particular one had 25 listed and was asking to comment on which phrase was our pet peeve. After reading through all of them and reminiscing about the most memorable times I’ve heard each of them used, I narrowed down my finalists. They included ones like “synergy,” “apples to apples,” and “bandwidth.” 

However, as an innovation consultant, there was one clear winner for me. I added my phrase to the comment section: “think outside of the box.” It’s not that I don’t agree with the concept, I actually live in it most of the time; it’s the fact that I don’t think people actually mean it. 

According to Wikipedia editors, it means “is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective.” A new perspective. New. That’s the tricky part. 

While I believe that people saying the phrase actually believe they want a new perspective, I don’t think they actually want one. In practice, for those that actually do want a new perspective, there are even fewer that appreciate the new perspective. Then, there is an even smaller percentage that will take the idea and “execute” on it. 

The reason “thinking outside of the box” is so disturbing to me is because it is my modus operandi. I love it. I thrive in it. If you present a problem statement to me, my brain goes into overdrive to imagine a novel solution. Operating within imagined constraints, I modify and update the idea to be a practical, if difficult one, to deliver. There are people who operate this way naturally. (See my post on brainstorming.)

With novel solutions, the biggest issue is that it feels impossible to implement. It takes more “out of the box” thinking to make it a reality. This means effort. Sometimes lots and lots of effort. By definition it also means change. It.means.NEW. 

Difficulty and change are not things that most people like to do. Out-of-the-box thinking demands a penchant for personal adaptation and hard work. That makes it off limits for the masses, but it’s where innovators reside. It’s where the best ideas come from. It’s where disruption and revolution are birthed. It’s a challenging path that yields incredible results. It’s not for everyone. 

The next time you hear the words “think outside of the box,” your immediate replies should be “do you really want this” and “are you willing to stick with the idea until it’s done.” If not, it frustrates everyone and doesn’t “move the needle” at all. If you say it, mean it and then work the ideas and enjoy the fruit of your labor. In the immortal words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not do. There is no try.”

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