How About Thinking “Inside” the Box?

Get back in the box!

Get back in the box!

Don’t you hate it when someone asks you to “think outside the box”?

Technically, thinking outside the box means “to think differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective” (according to Wikipedia).  Which sounds like a great idea – on the surface.  Usually you’re asked to think outside of the box during brainstorm sessions.  A company is looking for some bold – even radical – ideas to kick start a project so a brainstorm is called and the out of the box thinking begins.

But here’s the problem with thinking outside the box.  Most of the time the ideas don’t go anywhere.  They fall outside the parameters of what the company can or is even willing to do.  If your ideas are so far outside of the box that they have no chance for being implemented – then what is the point?

Rather than waste energy and creativity on developing pie-in-the-sky ideas, why not focus on ideas that can actually work?  That’s called “inside” the box thinking.

These are the ideas that can get buy-in.  They can also make a difference.  They may not radically alter the way your company does business, but they can put you on the road to it.  Remember the concept of the butterfly effect (the sensitive dependence on initial conditions of the chaos theory – basically that a flutter from a butterfly’s wings can be the cause of a hurricane).

Big, radical ideas can scare people (especially people in leadership positions at large enterprises).  So concentrate on developing ideas that fit within the parameters and culture of your company.  When you use “inside” the box thinking you can make real change.

Change that matters.

3 Responses to “How About Thinking “Inside” the Box?”

  1. I often find, though, that it helps to think big, pie-in-the-sky, outside-of-the-box ideas, and then scale them down to manageable proportions that make them realistic to achieve within the framework of your organization. We wouldn’t really innovate at all, particularly on the web, without a crazy idea now and then that didn’t fit within an organization’s parameters at the time.

    I like to encourage brainstorming, thinking big and thinking crazy — I think some of the most forward-thinking, innovative ideas come from doing that. But if you have your goals, resources and limitations in mind, you can also come up with an executable plan for the present while still having a mind for where you might want to scale up in the future.

  2. Hmm – maybe that’s where I keep going wrong! I’m a children’s author. Everytime I think outside the box and come up with a radical new idea for a book, publishers either don’t get it or they think the world isn’t ready for it.

    Two years later I see my idea done by someone else. It’s not been ripped off – my idea was part of the zeitgeist – my contribution was to alert publishers to the idea and make them comfortable with the idea when the other guy’s proposal eventually came along. I expanded the box for the publishers and brought them inside. Sadly, it doesn’t pay the bills.

    It’s far more productive for me to see what is successful at the moment and submit a similar idea – thinking inside the box. It’s not as exciting, and doesn’t add as much to the world.

  3. Hi Shoorayner:
    The the “inside” the box thinking I’m talking about is for corporate communications and marketing. I still think radical, crazy, big ideas are wonderful in the arts (although your points about getting published are valid ones)

    Hi Georgy:
    If your brainstorm session ends up with a pile of big, crazy ideas that your company or your clients can’t implement then is that a successful strategy? No doubt the sessions themselves can be crazy, but the ideas that you ultimately settle on need to be realistic.

    Was the iPod “outside” the box thinking for Apple? I’d argue that it wasn’t. It was right in their wheelhouse. It was a great idea – a game changer, but it was inside the box thinking.

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