Reflections,  Self Improvement,  Start Ups

Think INSIDE the box — because thinking outside the box is overused and overrated

Back in my University days, I had to take a compulsory management class that consisted of one motivational speech after another. The lecturer would often spurt out cliches like “push the envelop”, “give 110%” and the one that irked me the most — “think outside the box”.

To demand creativity and innovative thinking with a cliche is one of the worst things you can ever do.

At that point, I stopped going to classes all together but still attended the tutorials only because they were compulsory. Surprisingly, I still managed to get an A for the course.

I didn’t learn anything from that class, except how to effectively memorize passages from the text book and regurgitate it in my own words. There was no processing, no critical thinking, nothing, nada.

In my angered and annoyed state, I began to examine the whole “think outside the box” concept vigorously and came to the following conclusions:

Forget what’s outside

Forget what’s outside the box. Work with what you’ve got because sometimes you don’t have the choice or luxury to go beyond your current situation.

You can sit and pine and dream about what’s outside the box but don’t actually see that the stuff inside the box is enough.

What color are the walls?

Everyone is too busy trying to think outside the box they forget to ask other questions like what colors are the walls? Does it have windows? Is there a door? A ladder? A ceiling? How big is this box? does it have furniture? What kind of box is it? How can we monetize this box?

Why is everyone so preoccupied with thinking outside the box?

All things as we know it is a collection of knowledge, discoveries and preexisting ideas. To think outside the box is to discard what we’ve already learnt and know.

To think is to conjure up things that may or may not exist. Why not work with facts? Why not observe outside the box first? What experiments and tests can we do to see what’s beyond? What benefits can we gain from beyond what we’ve already got?

Creativity is a rehash of everything we know

To think outside the box is supposed to be an analogy for creativity and innovation. But creativity is just a rehash of things that we know in an order or series that is unique and different from everyone else.

Creativity is also the ability to apply what we know to solve a problem. It’s the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected dots to produce a desired outcome.

It’s like the scientists that decided to use the intricate membranes of a spinach leaf to construct a working heart.

What if the box is an analogy for your mind?

What if the box is actually your mind? Wouldn’t you want to increase its processing capacity? Wouldn’t you want to increase it’s strength, resilience, elasticity, width, height and depth?

if you were to think outside the box, does it mean to externalize your mind? We already do it with our devices. We offload contact details, phone numbers, connections, knowledge and data to a digital space that collects, collate, sorts and analyse what we give it.

By externalizing your mind, by thinking outside the box, doesn’t it make us dependent on that other box we’ve offloaded to?

Think outside the box has it all wrong

No. Don’t think outside the box. Instead, develop the skills and thought processes necessary to examine, hypothesize, test and analyse.

If you can’t even leverage what you’ve already got, what hope is there for what’s beyond?

Creativity doesn’t just exist out of nowhere. Inspiration strikes when we are able to turn something on its head and see it from a different perspective. Nothing about it is new, only how we perceive it.

Everything in this world is a collection of data points, both connected and unconnected. The more data we have about this ‘box’, the more we understand it and the more we are able to process and make something useful out of it. You can have all the other ‘boxes’ that exists beyond your current one, but it will be as useful to you as your current box is.

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