Why are we thinking outside the box? You hear it all the time. “You gotta think outside the box.” They tell us to be creative, we have to stop thinking inside the box, and think outside the box. This is a lot of thinking about boxes. Why are we thinking about boxes? We are limiting our creativity focusing on the stupid box.
If you want to be creative, think outside the banana. Think outside your comfort zone. Think outside your usual world. Think outside the universe for that matter, that’s what Stephen Hawking did. Get outside our world, think outside everything.
Creativity is a precious commodity. For most people, our work is prescribed. You do what someone told you to do. If your sheepherder, everything you need to know about herding sheep you learned from your grandfather. The ideas haven’t changed in millennia. All you have to do is what has been done before. For a lot of us, our jobs are all prescribed. Just do what’s in the book. Just do it the way other folks do it. If you’re a bookkeeper, or shopkeeper, or a waitress, or even lawyers and doctors, most of what you do is exactly the same as it has always been. Just follow the rules. Do what’s in the book.
But when you’re trying to do something really new, you can’t follow the rules. The rules take you to the same old place. You have to break the rules, or at least bend them if you’re going to do something new. New ideas disrupt old ideas. And people with new ideas upset everyone who is following the rules.
I had moments when I invented things. In the early 1980’s I ran a little computer business in Boston. We figured out that people who already owned a computer couldn’t buy a new one until they got rid of the old one. So we set up a business to help people sell their computers. We ran it like we were real estate brokers. We took listings. We made a database of all the owner’s names and what they had to sell. It was painfully local. We only served people in our town who knew us. But the best buyer might be far away. I was frustrated and on day I cried out, “I wish I could paint all of our data on the moon so everyone on earth could see it.” That is crazy! But crazy ideas can be tamed down and made workable. While painting data on the moon is crazy, that idea made us to think about how we could make our data accessible to more people. There was a company in our town setting up an electronic bulletin board. They needed content, and we had content. They made room on their system for people to see and search through our data about computers for sale. The first day our data was available, we got a call from a buyer in Chile. Suddenly, our tiny local business had gone global. That was 1983. And we had created the world’s first e-commerce business. We were not just thinking outside the box; we were thinking outside everything.
Every new idea enters the universe totally devoted to the old idea. There is a whole ecosystem organized around the old idea. If the new idea doesn’t fit with existing things that aren’t changing, then the new idea withers and dies. New ideas have to find fertile ground, they need other systems around them that are ready to adapt and change to the new idea.
New ideas need followers too. Leadership is not about the crazy person with a new idea, leadership is all about the second person who gets on board. One person with a new idea is a lunatic. Two people who share the new idea are the beginning of the movement. And once a dozen people are on board, there’s practically nothing that can stop them. But if the second person who hears the new idea says, “that’s stupid,” the new idea will die.
This is particularly important right here and right now. We are poised on the brink of a new era. A lot of the old era has been swept away. We lamented its loss, and now it’s gone. As we reinvent who we are and how we operate, we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves with a lot of new ideas. If we just do it the same old way, we will have missed the opportunity.
Stop thinking outside the box.
Think outside the banana!
Think outside the elephant!
Think outside the galaxy!
Stop thinking outside boxes and think outside THINKING!