What Thinking Outside The Box Doesn’t Mean

Tweak Don’t Tear Down

credit: Box by Nicholas Menghini from the Noun Project

Someone walks into a meeting and asks you to “brainstorm” for something “really outside the box.”

You pride yourself on being creative, so you take a few moments to think while everyone else is saying the same standard solutions that they’ve tried a million times.

You think for a minute and wait for a lull. You offer your idea and the room goes silent. Your idea is apparently odd. Weird.

Things get awkward until your colleague saves you with forced laughter.

The problem? You thought outside the box.

Most people don’t really want you to think outside the box. They want you to think about how to repaint the box. How to adjust. How to slightly renovate it while keeping the structure intact.

You thought that it was the task at hand, but you’re so far outside the box that you can’t see it anymore.

Oftentimes, people don’t really want an all-new fresh perspective (even if they say they do). They want a fresh perspective on what’s already there.

As a creative designer or writer or thinker, it’s your job to understand that and present a case. Sometimes that takes a few minutes, sometimes a few years.

People are more comfortable with slight modifications than whole rebuilds. Even though they say they really want something different, they probably mean a new paint color.

They mean a tweak, not a teardown.

Because those people probably helped build the box. They put the structures and products in place and have a lot invested in that.

They are often offended if your idea rips the box apart.

So tread lightly. Know who you’re dealing with. And present your ideas with the box in sight.


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I’m Josh Spilker and I blog about writing and books. My free guide, How To Fail As A Writer is being turned into a book…pre-order your copy here.