What box?! This was my response, always said with a tone of disdain, to the inevitable charge from others to think outside the box. What box are they referring to? Is this box a mystery or myth, why is it so bad, and where are its boundaries? I don’t like boxes much and have never understood the old adage and prescription to think outside of the box.
If you are anywhere close to my age you remember the Goth stage many teenagers decided to go through. Teenage life is all about creating identity so naturally they push against structure. It makes sense that teenagers do all sorts of things no one else understands as logical all in the effort to form their own identity. When I was in high school there was this ironic group of young folks who were Goth. Dressed in all dark colors, pants with enough zippers to cause much intrigue about what’s in all those pockets anyways, heavy eye liner, died black hair, Marilyn Manson and Misfits t-shirts, and maybe even the occasional trench coat. There is nothing intrinsically inerrant with this group; I have always been enamored by their plight to form a unique identity by homogenous means. What I mean by homogenous means is that by seeking this identity of being unique and not main stream they created a group that was all the same, everyone looked the same, yet maintained they were unique. Thinking outside the box is the Goth kid of the intellectual world.
The intent behind thinking outside the box declarations is pure, yet misguided. The quintessential issue at hand here is creativity. Creative minds are much like the elusive wascally wabbit Fud always chased around, admittedly, much to our entertainment. There is a rich back story here involving brain science and psychology that involves right-brain left-brain thinking. I invite you to investigate this fascinating topic for yourself, but in general right-brain thinkers are the creative types and left-brain thinkers are more of the task oriented types. Again, that reductive summary is like covering world economics within 30 seconds, a nod to Newt and his war on moderators, so understand that there is much more than what I offer on the subject that should be understood. I’d suggest A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink as a fascinating read further on the matter. Right-brainers are the future; creativity and individuality are what will take us into the next tier of innovation locally and globally.
The box is basically a trend of intellect and, much like clothing trends, changes often. Creative thinkers are constantly confused by this outside the box thinking rhetoric because in their (our) minds there are no boundaries to creativity, thus shapes with 4 symmetrical sides don’t make sense. When an energetic leader tries to inspire out of the box thinking their effort is often wasted because they are giving this charge to a mixed bag of minds. Some are naturally creative, others want to be creative, and yet others just lack creativity all together. This box they request people to think outside of is truly just a reference to the creative trend at the time. Thinking outside of the box truly means going beyond traditional ideas that have been made into modus operandi which goes against creativity in the first place. You cannot standardize creativity and to do so quenches its fire and power. Thinking outside the box beckons mediocrity because you are simply requesting non-creative minds to take a creative idea placed forward by someone else and standardize it. This new, ground-breaking idea only serves as the next box to be thought outside of. We are constantly chasing our tales with outside the box challenges being brought to the table. Instead of urging people to think outside of some box, why not discover who your creative types are, discover the intellectual capacity you have at your disposal, and lead the charge by empowering strengths instead of asking too much of some while frustrating others with foreign thought processes. This thinking out of the box jazz has to go, while I understand its intent, it’s misguided at best. It’s more challenging to discover what type of mind you have naturally and even more stimulating to develop your naturally underdeveloped hemisphere (which is possible as a side note, try painting, learning a new language, or journaling).
Next time you’re told to think outside of the box, appeal for clarity and seek to become creative yourself. The more creative we become the farther we’ll progress, progress so far that maybe even one day this old charge to think outside of the box will reduced to a silly idiom, like when an elderly person exclaims, “Heavens to Betsy!”