The term "Think Outside the Box" has become a normative phrase that is typically used to initiate creative thinking amongst a team when addressing a problem, finding innovations, or motivating thought. It is also sometimes a crisis response method in hopes of a quick fix. There is nothing wrong with this practice, and it can, at times, lead to innovations or solutions when used correctly.
However, this approach may be preemptive or a desperate reach for a solution that requires a different approach and does not produce the desired result. It can sometimes be misinterpreted as a solution, but in reality, it was not at all the action that should have been placed into the team's minds.
There is another fundamental thought that can be used and should be considered before letting the preceding statement be said. It does not sound as fun, but it is much more practical and probably needs to be what is addressed. That phrase is "Get Back in Your Box."
Every company has its own box. That box is composed of things you hold of value and how you want the company to be operated. It is what guides, motivates, and gives you pillars to stand. A strongbox should consist of mission, vision, values, culture, goal, and policies. These six sides of your box are what frames your company. They should guide all your decisions, influence how you think, and conduct your business. Sounds simple enough, and one may say that sometimes you need to leave that box to find innovation, and we would never argue that thought had the situation allowed for that. The problem is that even though you have this box, you are not fully utilizing it and harnessing all of its potentials. You are not maximizing its values, which were at one time used to get you to where you are now. You have probably moved away from some of these guiding factors or have not adapted them over time. Your core strategy has just become something of the past and is no longer a strategy.
Let's look at a well-known company and, more particularly, at the point when the leader was forced out of the company. For years this man did an outstanding job at building his box and sticking to it. He made a company that thrived in market share, innovation, culture, and profits. When the board removed him from the operations, they took the "let's think outside the box" approach. They wanted to change the box instead of using and refining it. They kept trying the think outside the box, over and over, and because of this mindset and direction, they destroyed the company to the point that the former leader, the one that built the box, was brought back, and he immediately reimplemented his box.
Why did he do this? Not out of arrogance, but because he knew the value of the box. He knew that the fundamentals of the box had gotten them through tough times. It had led them through times of need and product development. It was a solid and sturdy box, and he stuck to it, knowing that it would always support the company. Now, this example only outlines one scenario, a scenario built around a person who knew the value of his box and how to use it. Someone that never abandoned the box and did not need to be reminded to get back in it. But we need to realize in this example that the box was always the answer, and when the company started to try and think outside of it and change it, they started to encounter failure. They did not have guidance or anything to influence thought and decisions. Their pillars had crumbled because they were being re-engineered with poor choices.
As a leader, before you speak the phrase "think outside the box," take a step back and analyze your current task using your box, especially if you have already had success with your box and see what has happened to your box or how it is being utilized. Is there a weakness in the box? Have you moved away from your box? Are you utilizing all the tools in your box and utilizing them in the way they were intended to be used? There is a good chance is that you are not. If that is the case, then it is time to get back in the box and start to remaster and strengthen who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
Now, to get back in your box, if you have moved away from it and are thinking about saying the phrase, "let's think outside the box, " you need to make sure that you keep your box fresh. Repaint it, touch up the corners, and fix the dents, but do not leave the old box for a new one. If you take care of it, you will never have to leave it, and if you use it, the box will always support you and give the boost you need to see over everything else. Thinking outside the box is a way to approach a situation, but it should not be the 1st thought that comes to your mind and the direction given to your staff. It is needed at times, but if it is a desperate lunge for a quick fix or a shortcut, you will not get where you need to be or want to be. Take time to reevaluate your current situation based on your box and how that box has supported you all along. Determine how it can provide the answers you need. Then use it to stand on, be your support and foundation to the situation you are addressing.