I remember a Sunday when our friend David and his wife Susan came visiting us. As usual on those occasions we shared a nice Sunday meal and talked a lot. As we all come from different corners of the world and have very different domain knowledge it was not much surprising that the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ was coming up.
Everybody understands what it means: don’t always follow the old path. Sometimes it is necessary to shift, change the point of view, and explore the issue from a different angle.
This time David said, “I wish there would be more thinking inside the box!” We laughed and left it at the time. Although, I’d like to share my thoughts.
Thinking Outside the Box
In corporate team environments problems and challenges come always up. Attacking those with the usual arsenal of ideas, tools and processes ends up with a predictable but mostly unsatisfactory outcome. Hence leaders are trained to help the team thinking outside the Box. Those include
- using analogies: “what type of transport would the problem be?” This forces the mind to analyse the properties or elements of the problem and find analogies in this case in the transport industry.
- stretching the boundaries: “Consider the environment is without gravity, does this change any assumptions?” Challenging assumption can trigger a new view.
- combine the challenge with a known solution to a loosely connected problem. This can lift the whole problem to a different level bring new ideas.
- consider the opposite problem. Does that have a solution? If so, is the opposite solution a trigger for the original challenge?
- find other knowledge domains that have similar challenges. How do they deal with these?
- go back and write down the assumptions. Can they all be verified? Sometimes we believe there are assumptions because of our experience or believe systems.
Thinking Inside the Box
Thinking inside the box is too often something we take for granted. I mentioned before “the usual arsenal of ideas, tools and processes“. But, is it really happening? We have processes, policies, and procedures. Do we follow these too blindly or not strict enough? Remember the checklists. Checklists are there so we don’t forget anything we actually know plus they are great triggers for points we may not have heard about. And then there is doing something out of habit. Are you still asking why a task or process is done this way? Sometimes it is standard operating practice and that is good so for consistency. Although, we always can and need to improve how we do things around here. And that is not happening by following orders but by thinking inside the Box. That’s our home ground, our domain knowledge – keep it up!
Thinking inside the box is as important as outside the box. Thinking inside the box means you care how things are happening directly around you. The next time someone says ‘think outside the box’ make sure the inside has been covered as well.