You Cannot Think “Outside the Box”
By Jim Kuiken
You see commercials with people in front of blackboards, or standing inside a box, and their boss is asking for an innovative solution…and one guy steps outside the box. Another one tries, but gets intimidated and stays inside, while the rest of the “sheeple” (latest fad term) stand there inside the box looking uncomfortable or confused.
You’ve heard it on TV, in the social media, in office conversations, strategy sessions, in class, or just in general conversation. “You have to think outside the box!” Everyone thinks you need to think outside the box.
So what does that mean? It means that the increasingly stale fad is to talk about thinking outside the box…and since everyone is saying that, then thinking outside the box is being inside the box…
What the heck is “the box”? And why do I have to think outside of it? Someone coined that phrase to get someone else to think innovatively, look for new solutions rather than stay with conventional thinking. The very idea that you have to think in terms that use standard thinking as the reference point flies in the very face of innovation.
Do you think the Tesla thought outside the box? Einstein? Hawking? Sheldon? Your crazy aunt with a gypsy dress and an antenna headband? Nope.
When I decided to run for US Congress in Texas during the 2011-2012 campaign season, I put together a team to help me run, develop strategy, manage the campaign, etc. What I didn’t do was to ask them what platform I should run on. That was my responsibility, and was actually the very reason I ran – because of what I believed in, and a strong desire to better the lives of the people in the 15th Congressional District in Texas.
I had to decide which of the established political parties to run in, or to declare myself an Independent. My purpose in running was to win, so going independent was not a winning strategy. The two main parties were the ones that would have the base and recognition to garner enough votes to win an election.
So…the Democrat party (and yes, it’s Democrat…not “democratic” party – since both parties are democratic), or the Republican party.
As a constitutional conservative with Libertarian leanings, and some social views that mirrored some from the Democrats, and some government and defense views that conformed to the Republicans…and even a little Green party view thrown in just for fun…, what was I?
I ran as a Republican, because the bulk of my views lined up, or came close to that party’s platform, but openly expressed my personal views on any subject during the campaign – and we built a very strong following by being “just Jim”.
When folks from outside the campaign would talk about all the innovative solutions and say that we really thought “outside the box”, I would smile and say thank you.
When the campaign staff would talk about “outside the box”, I would stop them, and say…“What box? There is no box!”
That’s the whole point! To accept the concept of a box, and having to think outside of the box, is to accept someone else’s definition and restrictions – to place yourself inside their box so you can then “think outside the box”.
Those innovative thinkers I mentioned did not think outside the box. They did not recognize the concept of restrictions based on someone else’s definition. They had no pre-conceived restrictions to break out of…they were unfettered thinkers, limited only by their own imagination.
“Kuiken, you’re a weird dude…” Do you know how many times I’ve heard that? All my life. “Where do you come up with all this stuff?” “What the heck are you doing now?” And one of my favorites, “Kuiken, you’re crazy.” Probably all true, but I’ve been highly successful in almost every venture I’ve ever been involved with – the military, public service, international diplomacy, corporate leadership, etc.
When it comes to dealing with serious issues, solving problems, developing winning strategies, and being successful…who are those individuals people turn to? Those who don’t “think outside the box”. Those who do not accept other people’s restrictions and concepts of how to think or innovate.
Don’t let conventional thinking box you in. As Neo learned…don’t try to bend the spoon. There is no spoon…