Thinking Inside the Box

Making a Case for Thinking Inside the Box

Oh… the box. That “thing” we do. That “widget” we promote. That “idea” we present. Every company, every brand, every piece of media fits in a box. The shape, size, color, texture, smell (etc.) of the box changes, but there is indeed a box for each of us. That’s commerce. That’s how we define and distribute and compete. And I submit to you, that’s a GOOD thing. People who say they don’t live inside a box are missing an opportunity to be truly great in what they do: to excel at being thoughtful leaders and inspirers of others through their box.

So what is so useful in thinking outside the box?

I think “out of the box” is a term that is best used with the box nearby. Because in thinking outside the box, you actually have the opportunity to expand the ideas and the opportunities of your box. In thinking about untapped markets, in thinking about new areas of growth or new ways to communicate that are “outside” the box, you can expand the scope and purpose of your company. In short:

You cannot be satisfied with the box of today, you have to think about the box of the future.

That’s a massive challenge for many. The laser-like focus needed to deal with the day-to-day operations and demands means that macro, out of the box thinking isn’t always possible. For many, their vision is based on year over-year-sales projections, or revisions to existing products and services that will keep them relevant. That is how they grow. And they don’t have the time or the resources to focus on things outside their current strategy.

But true leaders make room for big conversations. They look for ways to engage and expand the discussions to think about things that aren’t even possible in the box of today. Facebook, Apple, Tesla, Pixar, Virgin, all of these brands have a box. All were built by people that understood and defined what their box contains. But, all of these examples also made their culture one that encourages ways to take their CORE DNA and propel it into new avenues. It is part of the brand premise and culture.

Real leaders look at the box as a vehicle to stay true to what makes them great, but constantly seek new ways to articulate a vision. In their book, “Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results,” Victor Prince and Mike Figliuolo discuss in depth how to get the most out of teams and expand the vision of each company’s “box.”  They see a community of collaboration that doesn’t stifle ideas or new avenues for growth and development.

In her Harvard Business Review article, Rosabeth Moss Kanter changes this to be “out of the building” thinking: getting your team outside the facility, outside the bubble, so that you can focus on, as Peter Drucker terms it, “the meaningful outside.”  The outcome is the same: your team thrives because they see what is outside so that it can change the inside.

The definition of the institution’s meaningful Outside, and of the information it needs, makes it possible to answer the key questions: “What is our business? What should it be? What should it not be?” The answers to these questions establish the boundaries within which an institution operates.  – Peter Drucker

Are you someone who looks at big ways to expand, or are you satisfied with staying in your current box? Do you make time in your day-to-day business strategy to have “big idea” discussions? Do you reward those that practice macro visioning? If you do not, I encourage you to start the practice, because to compete in a world where the box is digital, ever-expansive, and the lines between box and non-box are increasingly blurred, not thinking this way is costing you success.

I encourage you to start practicing some “out of the box” planning for your organization. Start a weekly lunch and learn group. Give people time each day to be creative and to bring in fresh ideas from outside your bubble. You will see the benefits, both in bottom line and morale and retention. But, as noted, don’t use this time to strategize a new box or “how to solve the Middle East crisis” (unless that’s what you do as a job). Rather, use this “out of the box” time to help energize your next chapter. And let it engage your team on how to build the bigger, better box: your 2.0 box.


Patrick Jager is the CEO of CORE Innovation Group – expert strategy and implementation in media, communications and business development.

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