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“think outside the box.”  what a cliche.

the phrase is shit.  i hate that phrase.  what does it mean anyway?

if you’re the type that goes around telling people to “think outside the box”, i hate you.  have you no shame?  you might as well tell them to go find nirvana.  after all, the two “advice” have about the same value to the listener: zero.

if you’ve ever tried to think of something new, something creative – and i mean really, actually tried – then you know you need those boxes.  why?  because if you don’t have a problem, you can’t find a solution.  let me explain.

often, you’ll face a situation where you’re asked to do something like “develop a business”, or “find a name for a new product”.  if that’s all you have, if it’s all the info you’re given, i guarantee that you’ll never – never – think of anything worth half a dog’s dumplings.  most likely you’ll simply blank out.  even if you’re brainstorming as a team, all you’ll get is idle silence.

true creativity emerges when you’re faced with problems, with constraints.  if you’re forced to develop a business which does not have the funds to recruit new resources, you might find a solution to reduce costs with what you’ve got.  if you need to find a name for a new product name that is aiming for the “environment-friendly” feeling without beeing blatant, you might come up with something with an adjective like “emerald” instead of just “green”.

in the first one, you’re thinking about solutions that do not require additional costs.  in the second, you’re thinking about names that can present its environmentally friendly nature in a subtle way.  in other words, you need to frame the box.

too often people pretend to think out of the box when they don’t even know what the box looks like.  they try to go to “10” without counting “0,1,2,3…”.

yes, ok, i know the phrase is supposed to be about thinking of new approaches to a problem.  but i hate how cliched it has become, how people throw it around, pretending it is invaluable advice.  stop it.  they gain nothing more to work with.  it’s not coaching, it’s just shit.

i happen to like having boxes.  i create them all the time. 

boxes were created with a reason…to hold presents inside.

Post inspired by hearing someone use it after rejecting a colleague’s decision, and also by Mark McGuinness’s excellent post on the faulty origins of the “Thinking Outside the Box” phrase.



    • sheila terrell
    • Posted August 27, 2010 at 2:32 am
    • Permalink

    I could not have said this any better. I totally agree with your concept.

  1. Thank you sheila, great to hear from someone 🙂

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