If there was ever a time for people in our organizations to “think outside the box,” that time is now. Covid19 has forced us to focus on solving very different challenges. This is more than a cliché. I don’t know of an official definition for “out of the box” thinking, but let’s start with “in the box” thinking.
Inside The Box Thinking
“Thinking inside the box” means accepting the status quo. For example, Charles H. Duell, Director of the US Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented” in 1899. Clearly he was in the box!
In-the-box thinkers find it difficult to recognize the quality of an idea. An idea is an idea. A solution is a solution. In fact, they can be quite pigheaded when it comes to valuing an idea. They rarely invest time to turn a mediocre solution into a great solution.
More importantly, in-the-box thinkers are skilful at killing ideas. They are masters of the creativity killer attitude such as “that’ll never work” or “it’s too risky.” The best in-the-box thinkers are unaware that they drain the enthusiasm and passion of innovative thinkers while they kill their innovative ideas.
They also believe that every problem needs only one solution; therefore, finding more than one possible solution is a waste of time. They often say, “There is no time for creative solutions. We just need THE solution.”
Even great creative people can become in-the-box thinkers when they stop trying. Apathy and indifference can turn an innovator into an in-the-box thinker.
In only one case is in-the-box thinking necessary. This comes from a cartoon: a man talks to his cat and points to the kitty litter box. He says, “Never ever think outside the box!”
Outside the Box Thinking
“Thinking outside the box” requires different attributes that include:
- Willingness to take new perspectives to day-to-day work.
- Openness to do different things and to do things differently.
- Focusing on the value of finding new ideas and acting on them.
- Striving to create value in new ways.
- Listening to others.
- Supporting and respecting others when they come up with new ideas.
Out-of-the box thinking requires openness to new ways of seeing the world and a willingness to explore. Out-of-the box thinkers know that new ideas need nurturing and support. They also know that having an idea is good but acting on it is more important. Results are what count. We will need a whole new generation of ideas and results moving forward knowing that Covid19 will not disappear soon.