Sometimes when we try to talk our way out of a problem, we end up reinforcing the problem…or even making it worse. Such is the case with ‘the box,’ that clever phrase that rose to prominence at arts conferences and conventions in the ’80s and ’90s, and that lives on today. Thinking ‘outside of the box,’ or ‘beyond the box,’ became a professional pastime of arts managers and keynoters over the past 30 years, usually making its comeback during tough economic times. True to form, ‘the box’ is back with a vengeance.
The frustrating reality of negating something, however, is that you actually strengthen its hold. If I suggest that you NOT think of a giraffe right now, what pops into your head?
Okay, now don’t think of the walls around you that block your creative thinking, ignore the barbed wire between you and an integrated response to your current challenges, and whatever you do, don’t feel a sense of helplessness and loss of energy in your professional life.
There, didn’t that help?
With all the focus on ‘the box,’ we often forget that there is no box. It’s a fiction. It’s a metaphor. It’s a catchy phrase for a conference brochure. There certainly can be limits that keep us from seeing a wider world of possibilities–limits like social and psychological blind spots, inflexible assumptions, groupthink, and entrenched ‘common knowledge.’
But these limits are much more maleable, variable, and actionable than ‘the box’ implies. Perhaps the first step in thinking outside the box is to stop talking about the box. It’s a construct that we constructed ourselves, and we only make it stronger by plotting our escape.