Thinking outside the box is one probably one of the most over-used cliché in business meetings. During one of the recent encounters with fellow IT professionals, in response to a comment for thinking outside the box, one of the managers simply said “which box”. That got us putting our collective minds together defining the proverbial “Box” that creates a boundary around our thinking and which has to be breached in order to resolve complex issues and achieve extraordinary success.

What Box?

Thinking outside the box without understanding the boundaries of the box and its effects on your thought process will be futile. The “box” here has many definitions. It could be limitations on individual or the group because of lack of subject matter knowledge and that the “outside-the-box” solution for such a group could be a standard option for an expert in that field. The team could be “thinking in the box” because of lack of training on technical aspects, or simply because of lack of motivation or rewards for being creative. More experienced team members could also be boxed because of their “many” years of experience of doing things in a particular way. There is a feeling of comfort and an expectation of a certain degree of success in doing things in a time tested way even if it means that the results are less than optimal.

Why do we have to “intentionally” think to think outside the box? Why don’t we always think outside the box? Why is there a box instead of free flowing thought process without limitations and boundaries?  You cannot think outside the box without acknowledging your limitations and making a conscious effort to overcome those limitations and expanding your horizon of knowledge. Thinking outside the box represents a creative mindset, a mechanism to step back and looking at the bigger picture. The focus has to change from the task on hand to the eventual outcome or goal of the entire activity. Encouraging your employees to challenge conventional wisdom and ensuring that their ideas are not met with ridicule or made fun of during and after office meetings will help in breaking up the boxed culture in which many businesses operate.

  • The box is a set of limitations imposed on a thought process due to limitation of knowledge.
  • The box is a set of rules, procedures, and policies mandating that a particular activity be performed in a specific way.
  • The box is fear of ridicule by peers for challenging conventional wisdom.

There will always be a box defined by the above limitations, creative thinking and positive reinforcement of individuals capabilities and creativity will help minimize and the effects of these limitations. Creativity starts with a thought that comes from knowing the actual outcome of an activity rather than simply a requirement to provide what is told. This thought has to be nurtured and allowed to grow even if it appears to be irrelevant in the beginning. Successful leaders motivate their team by helping them understand how their work fits into the larger corporate strategy and encourage them to think creatively without any barriers limiting the flow of creativity.