Thinking Outside the Box

When faced with a difficult situation, you often hear the phrase ‘think outside the box’. People who can do that in a good way are often rewarded for being clever and insightful. For certain, this way of thinking is difficult, but for a variety of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that thinking outside the box requires innovation or a certain way of looking at the problem in a non-conventional way. While this seems impossible to some people, it comes as a second nature to others. In order to illustrate what this means, think back to a situation where you had to choose between one of two mutually exclusive options, each with its positive and negative sides. In a situation like this, ‘thinking outside the box’ means that you imaginatively invent a third option which suits you, and everyone around you, better than the other two ever will. If this is obvious to you, then you are an innovator.

Yet, there is another reason why it is so difficult for people to ‘think outside the box’. When you look at the world around you, all you see is boxes. From the moment you were born, you came out of your mother’s womb and into a box. That first room in the hospital – a box. When your parents took you home, they took you to another box: your home. You then spent the years of your life in a variety of boxes – your home, school, car, library, disco… you name it, and it is a box!

Why is it that we constructed the world around us in box-shaped structures? Why do we constantly stay within the boundaries of our boxes? For the same reason that we give for anything we, as human beings, give when we do not want to do something – fear. People are afraid to go outside their own, safe, protected box and into the box of someone else.  If you are laughing at how stupid this sounds, then please stop, because you are laughing in my box right now.

From this idea, it would follow that if we constructed our world in another way, we would not be boxed-in anymore. Would it be different if we all lived in circular-shaped rooms/buildings and drove oval-shaped cars? Probably not (for example, think of that guy who sits in an oval office all day – he has not been ‘thinking outside the box’ for a long time). The only difference would be that the expression would not be ‘think outside the box’, but rather ‘think outside the circle’. The difficult aspect of the action would still be there. The fear of going outside the familiar would remain.

It is because of this that we all need to realize what is going on around us, and this can only happen in a series of steps. First, you have to become aware of the box(es) in your life. Identify them and point them out. Then, divide them into those you like and those you do not. The second kind, you have to break down. In order to solve a problem, you have to be able to look past the negatives, which entails breaking down the walls which stand in your way. The last step is to see the forest through the trees, which is something you can not do from within your box. Do not just leave your box, but do not look back into it – look outward. Who knows what you will find?

The next time that someone tells you that you are thinking outside the box, do not hesitate to feel good about yourself. You broke down barriers others could not. You escaped the box-shaped world we live in and came up with something new. And no one ever openly condemned a good, innovative idea. (Except the Catholic Church, but that is another story).

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