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Rather, it's based on the idea that somewhere in the distant past, someone smarter than you sat down and developed a protocol and a procedure for nearly every imaginable scenario.

4 February

The procedures are all written down somewhere or stored in the minds of the company managers, and it's your job to find the policy or the manager who has the info, and do whatever the book or the manager tell you to do. That's the business frame, in a nutshell. Getting out of the box means shifting the frame. Let's say that you're facing a problem at work. You're the sales 0perations manager, and it's your job to make sure that everything about the order-taking and order-placing process goes smoothly. The sales reps rely on you to make sure their orders get filled. This week, sales are brisk, and you've only got units of a popular product in the warehouse.

Your top sales guy calls in to say he's just sold units of that popular item, but the units have to be delivered to the customer site on Monday, just a few days out. You call the warehouse and they don't pick up their phone, so you text the warehouse manager and beg him to save the last inventory units for the incoming big order.

You call the supplier to see what's coming down the pipeline: the next order of the product you need won't be ready for another week. This is turning in a crisis: your sales guy is going to be units short and the customer is going to go ballistic.

What the cast of 'Out of the Box' is doing 20 years later

The in the box playbook says "Well, it's too bad, but the sales guy should have checked inventory with me before he committed to deliver units. The in the box answer is unsatisfying, but it's easy.

We go into the box so often in part because it's so effortless to go there -- we certainly know where the box is. In the box solutions aren't exciting, but people don't get fired for finding them, either. Staying inside the box in our example, you wouldn't overcome the obstacle or save the day for your customer, but you'd chalk up the experience and move on. That's what most people would do in this situation, and that's why most people are in the box problem-solvers.

I got the order, I checked with the warehouse, I checked with the supplier -- it's just one of those things. No one even told me that we were pitching a unit order, or I would have had more time to plan for it. This product has been selling for awhile. Undoubtedly there are units sitting on shelves in other customers' warehouses right now. Could you check with the rest of the sales team to see which customers might actually be happy to sell units back to you -- or loan them to you for a week?

You could call the salesperson who placed the piece order, and talk with him about the customer's plans for the units they've just ordered. The sales guy asked for all units to be delivered on Monday, but is there really an immediate need for all of them? Could you, your sales guy, your supplier and the customer's Purchasing folks figure out a delivery schedule that gets the extra units to the customer in plenty of time for whatever they're planning?

The supplier told you that your next big shipment isn't due for a week. But the supplier doesn't know about the big order your sales guy just placed. If you filled in your supplier on what's going on at your end, he could get out of his own box "Your order will be ready in a week" and get creative to help you. Could he divert another order, maybe from a customer who doesn't need the units as badly as you do, to get you the extra units on Monday? Getting out of our mental boxes is partly a matter of effort -- of going beyond the most obvious answer, in this case "Oh well, too bad.

In the business world, we learn gazillions of procedures and policies. We start to think that the processes are real, and very important -- that they have some fundamental purpose apart from giving everybody the same playbook and keeping the work chugging along.

Many Thomas toys come out of the box! Thomas & Friends

We can start to elevate processes and policies to heroic status. That's the last thing we should do! Processes are put in place to make things simpler, but they also make it easy to turn our brains off.


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  • What Does "Out of the Box Thinking" Really Mean?!

We know we can function reasonably well with our brains turned off or, more likely, engaged elsewhere -- think of all the interesting mental journeys you take while driving! You can set your brain to half-power and still get through the day at most jobs without much trouble -- staying in the box. I was a corporate HR chief for eons, and when tech recruiting heated up every few years, headhunters would plague us with fishing calls to our employees.

Donna was going out of her mind trying to do her regular job and field the headhunter-barrage at the same time. I didn't want to pay our brilliant telephone receptionist to play bar bouncer to headhunters. We talked about the problem at an HR staff meeting. Is it our job to screen calls intended for our employees?

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Think outside the box'?

As Donna said, we don't want to make our receptionists call-screening bad guys. What test of legitimacy should be required before a receptionist puts a call through? We don't want our guys harassed by headhunters, but then again, our guys are adults. Do we want to be in the business of deciding what sorts of calls they should take and not take at work? Doesn't the prospect of doing that get very creepy, very fast?

think out of the box

Are we going to start asking callers to prove they aren't headhunters? We realized that when employees talk to search people on the phone, both positive and negative things for the company and for our employees can happen. Our employees could hear about appealing job openings elsewhere. We'd be seriously bummed if they quit.

If you think your problem is too complex for a child to understand, take some time to figure out how to explain it simply. Routine is the enemy of innovative thinking, but so is precedent.


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  • Why You Should Think Outside the Box?

Imagining a clean slate can help you change perspective and think outside the box. Try this for five minutes a day, three days a week. Increase the amount of letters in the words you are alphabetizing as you get more proficient. Learning something new can help you look at the things you already know how to do from a completely different angle.

Out of The Box on Steam

Freewriting is the act of picking a topic, setting a timer for a short amount of time, and writing as fast as you can without stopping to edit. It flows best if you do it with a pen and paper rather than on a computer. The timer adds some pressure to keep writing, forcing your brain to think creatively instead of conventionally. It can free your thoughts. Write a word or phrase. Draw a circle around it. Draw a branch and a related word or phrase. Circle that. The practice unlocks ideas.