Here’s the thing, we all want to believe that we think outside the box. We’re different, we're cutting edge, we think outside the box. That’s what we want people to know about us. That’s what separates us from the rest of the ham and eggers slogging their ways through this world. Go with us, we’re different, we think outside the box. And then you scramble to hire people that think outside the box so you can live up to that promise and then those new people struggle to think outside the box or maybe you hire consultants who will think outside the box and give you a fistful of options and on and on it goes. And on and it has been going since the idea of thinking outside the box appeared in the late 60s/early 70s.
Trying to think outside the box can drop you down the rabbit hole of Zeno’s Paradox. In order to get outside the box you must first get halfway out of the box and to get halfway out of the box you must first get a quarter of the way out of the box and in order to get a quarter of the way out of the box … on and on it goes until you realize there is no way out of the box. Reductio ad absurdum.
What if the idea of the box is what’s getting in the way. By identifying the box we’re constraining our thought to inside or outside of this manufactured, mythical box. That means we’re starting out constrained and contained. Why? Why do that? And to question this further, who is doing that? Who is the one saying think outside the box? Who is the one creating the box that you’re supposed to be thinking outside of? Is it you? Are you doing it to yourself? Or have you allowed some executive to put the box into your head and now, you’re spending your days fighting to get out of a box that someone else has created and imposed on you? Well, you’re not alone. Everyone in a creative field has been fed this outside of the box bill of goods and it’s driving us all insane. Slowly, methodically, completely insane.
So, here’s what I'm thinking, what if there is no box? Never was, never will be. Simple as that, there is nothing to think outside of just think … out. Think of all the things that you encounter every day that you’re asked to buy into. What happens if you don’t do it? I’m not calling for anarchy here or the upheaval of law and order, I’m talking about small changes, removing the boxes that fill our everyday lives. Here’s a start; walk around your house, your apartment and point at objects. You know what they are; chair, desk, table, etc. But now, when you point at an object, name it. Call it something, anything as long as you don’t call it what it is. A chair may be Frank, the table a cat, the desk, stew face. Point and name. Don’t think, don’t plan, don’t judge, just point and name. Do it out loud, say the new name out loud. Why? Because this starts to loosen the head up in a very simple way. You give yourself permission to see the place you live, the things you live in and among, from a different view. How does that change the way you start seeing the world? Do this on the way to work, give names to all the people on the bus or the train. I advise you doing this part in your head to avoid physical conflict with a large, angry, construction worker that you’ve named Queenie.
Say “yes”. Put yourself in a yes mode for a while. Again, not advocating robbing a bank or cliff diving if you're afraid of heights but when you’re in a meeting and you feel that impulse to say ‘no’ or ‘that won’t work’ or whatever your usual knee-jerk reaction is, say yes instead. Say yes, accept and welcome things that you may usually say no to and see where that leads. Once you’ve said yes for a while and it becomes easy, start saying “yes and” … accepting and adding to the idea. This is going to give you the freedom to be more open to things that may have been a little frightening, a little unconventional before and stretch you further. When you put yes with and, then you’re encouraging others on your team to be more open as well.
Think outside. Not a box or a jar, just outside. Imagine an endless field, limitless space, no boundaries, no fences. No one saying ‘no’ or ‘that’s not the way we do it’ or ‘that’s been done before’. A vast expanse of everythingness. That’s where you’re invited to think. That’s where you start, there’s nothing to think out of, there’s just freedom to think, create and discover. That's where the best stuff comes, when you’re not trying to think outside a box but you’re moving about freely and then you’re able to bump into ideas, fall over ideas.
Remember that you are unique. Your ideas, if they’re coming to you in the moment, are yours and they’re unique and true. What happens when we try to think outside the box is we start moving further and further away from ourselves and we are , by nature, the most unique, interesting things going. Forget the box. In or out, it’s not helping your creative self to thrive. Boxes are for packing and storage not for creating and exploring.