Think, but dump the box first

Ever participated in a project discussion or a corporate meeting? Whether you are a Gen X or Gen Y, the answer to this question is most likely going to be a yes. Amidst the salvo of agenda points to be discussed in any traditional meeting, there is one point that can never be emphasized enough. After each of these meetings, when you are at your desk collecting your thoughts, there’s this one prominent ‘action item’ that is often so vague that you struggle to find the ‘actionable’ part of it. Each one of you must have been poked to ‘think out of the box’ for a zillion time. Irrespective of your career level –there will always be some senior who wants to throw you out of a box and fetch that ‘outside’ perspective.

What does the phrase ‘think outside the box’ mean?

The Cambridge dictionary defines the (now overused) phrase as, “to think imaginatively using new ideas instead of traditional or expected ideas”. There was a time when it held substantial potency, it almost always managed to push the boundaries of a human brain, often resulting in a new and unconventional pool of ideas.

Fast forward to this day and age and you will see quite many adulterated applications of this banal phrase. Some of them being:

1. When you can’t be blunt in rejecting somebody’s ideas.

It has gained a euphemistic edge to its connotation. Stuck in a situation where you have an outright disregard to an idea or a proposal? Simple! Just mellow your voice, bring in a flavor of motivation and frame a whole speech around how that person needs to think outside the box.

2. When there is an invisible asterisk in your ‘constructive’ feedback.

It’s an easy way out to conclude a ‘you were almost there’ conversation, by slowly sliding in the ‘thinking out of the box might have helped’ clause.

3. When any discussion comes to a screeching halt and you have nothing else to say.

What can be a very specific-sounding, yet too generic an input? Of course, you guessed it right! You just have to conclude it by stating that what is missing is a new, out of the box perspective which shall be discussed in the next group huddle.

Why does it often fail to create the intended impact?

First, I genuinely feel that every box has quite a bit of wiggle room that remains unexplored. Why not consider that, before you decide to ditch that box and venture for a new one? Sometimes all you need to do is wear a new spectacle, turn the same box upside-down and there you are with your eureka moment.

Second, when somebody is asked to think out of the box, they are unnecessarily engulfed by a burden to think of something revolutionary and that starts altering their natural thought process. I don’t understand why looking at the same thing with a fresh perspective is so underrated.

Why should we stop smothering people with the burden of ‘thinking out of the box’?

1. It doesn’t spur creativity.

There’s a natural course that human mind takes while thinking. One thought originates, it grows from its contours and segues into what we call an idea. It can’t churn out ideas on a command.

2. It presumes that there is a box, to start with.

We as a species have this unquenchable urge to confine ourselves within imaginary boxes. Why limit our thought process when the sky is the limit?

3. It is important to be well versed with the inside too.

In many situations, the much-needed idea is required to be more relevant and consistent with the current business/process requirements. Stepping out the box might make us astray from the ground requirements.

We need to understand the gravitas of the phrase and not force it on somebody for even the most ordinary situations. Most of the out-of-the-box ideas come before their time, fetching them less weight than what they would have otherwise received. Sometimes it’s not necessary to zig when everybody else zags, it’s fine to opt for a conventional path.

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