Your team has hit a wall. That one persistent problem has foiled every attempt to overcome it. Progress is hampered by frustration, productivity is suffering, and the challenges seem to multiply with each new idea.

Then someone chimes in, “We need to think outside the box.

treasure chest with glow

The truth is that’s exactly the opposite of what you need. The value of innovation is judged by its ability to solve a problem. When you get rid of the box, even the most brilliant idea falls short of accomplishing what you need. Here’s why:

The box gives meaning.

It’s hard to “swing for the fences” if there are no fences…and therefore no way to measure success. That long ball can’t sail out of the ballpark when there’s no ballpark. We’ve all sat in lofty brainstorming sessions that drain resources, obscure our real objectives and frustrate the heck out of us. So forget about those. Think of the constraints that define your situation as parameters for the solution. Success exists within these constraints. If you start by acknowledging the constraints, even making a list titled “What we can’t do,” or “What limitations do we agree we’re dealing with?”, you’re inside the box where all the answers are. The most potent innovation is a creative response to the confines of a problem. Thinking outside the box wants to mean “Let go of the constraints and come up with something revolutionary.” But the fact is, great ideas are born within restraints. It’s why stories move us, why jokes make us laugh. Because of structure.

 

Build the box and you build the solution.

Let’s say you are creating a slogan for a new product line. In order for the slogan to support existing branding, it has to be short (4-6 words), contain sporty action verbs, and have the slightest tint of sarcasm. Already, you have a template for the ideal phrase. A box to think within. Fences to give you a distance to run and a way to measure it. The perfect line may not come about easily, but you certainly can’t ignore the factors that define it. The same constraints that make it a difficult problem also point to a valuable solution. That’s why thinking inside the box rewards us with the satisfaction of solving the problem while giving us a usable solution.

 

Thinking inside the box creates agile problem solvers.

Do you want employees that can innovate to overcome obstacles while always keeping the right priorities in mind? Teach them to think inside the box! If your team reacts to problems by ignoring the critical elements, they are risking the frustration of feeling adrift. That’s not a healthy habit for any employee. Nurturing innovation is as easy as unleashing creativity inside the confines of whatever your “box” dictates.

 

Thinking inside the box is original.

Let’s face it – ‘think outside the box’ is a tired cliche. Suggest it in a meeting and watch how more and more people cringe. It’s a phrase many were sick of the second time they heard it. When we try to do it, or suggest it, we’ve lost sight of the most important attributes of innovation: necessity and function. Thinking inside the box leverages our creativity to meet the needs of the box-all the rest of us whose lives and jobs are defined by what’s inside it.

 

The next time you find yourself brainstorming a vexing problem, try saying, “I think we need to think inside the box.” Then watch the faces of your team light up with possibility…or at least surprise.

Four Reasons to Think Inside the Box