Why “Thinking Outside of the Box” (by itself) Doesn’t Work
Most of us would agree that we all have a certain way of thinking. We’ve been taught our whole lives that our own way of thinking is thinking “inside the box.” We’ve been told many times that we need to learn to think “outside the box.” I contend that this doesn’t work.
When we’re in a box (our way of thinking), we may hear or see something that encourages us to make a change. We are encouraged, and we decide to attempt to get outside of our normal way of thinking. But when we get outside of our box, we get uncomfortable and inevitably crawl back into our box. We don’t just go back; we crawl back in.
Later on, we hear something that encourages us and think, I can do this! So, we step out to make a desired change, but it gets uncomfortable again.
Once again, we crawl back into our old box, our old way of thinking and behavior.
Many of us live our lives inside our box, occasionally managing to get outside only to crawl about in over and over again. If “thinking outside the box” worked, this wouldn’t be the case.
I believe that your thinking must change before you leave your box. You must make a decision and accept that it is going to get uncomfortable. The thought before you leave the old box must be, “It’s going to get uncomfortable, and when it does, I am not going to crawl back into the box.” Make the decision.
I suggest writing that down or putting it in your daily calendar so that you can revisit it as often as you need to until you feel confident enough to not crawl back into your comfortable box.
If you can stay outside that box long enough, you’ll find that you start to see that box from a different vantage point. You’ll move away from it, but you’ll be able to put the good things from that box in your pockets and take them with you while leaving the not-so-good things and behaviors behind. You’ll see that you’re no longer inside or outside the box; you’re beyond the box. That’s where you realize it would be just as uncomfortable to crawl back in as it is to keep moving forward. This kind of inside the box thinking happens on an individual level as well as in our organizations.
A similar metaphor can be found with bubbles (yes, like soap bubbles). A bubble is formed when the pressure on the outside is exactly equal to the pressure on the inside. But at some point, every bubble is going to burst. So, if we are thinking in a bubble, we know that, while it is comfortable inside, the pressure is eventually going to change.
In both cases, box and bubble, when you stay with your new way of thinking long enough, you will have a brand-new way of approaching and understanding problems and opportunities. This is thinking beyond the bubble and beyond the box, and allows the change to remain long-term.
If we change the way we think, we change the way we feel. When we change the what we feel, we change the way we act. When we change the way we act, we change our current and future outcomes. If we keep thinking the way we’ve always thought, feeling the way we always feel, we will keep getting the same results we have always gotten. This applies to individuals, marriages, families, businesses, schools, and governments. If we want to grow and affect change, we have to learn how to successfully move beyond the comfort of thinking inside the box.
This article is adapted from Ford Taylor’s book Relactional Leadership: When Relationships Collide with Transactions: Practical Tools for Every Leaders.
“A loud and consistent champion of Appreciation at Work, Ford provides amazing transformational training for leaders.” – Dr. Paul White
Categories Career Direction, Optimism, Perseverance, Relationships, Work