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Whoever Told You To “Think Outside the Box”—Was Wrong

Whoever Told You To “Think Outside the Box”—Was Wrong

Taking an inside-out approach is what drives real innovation.

Contrary to popular belief, thinking outside the box is a misnomer. The common buzz-phrase in today’s culture of how innovation and creativity comes from outside the box thinking is not correct. In fact, it is inside the box thinking that drives real innovation, creativity and performance, and here’s why.

Quite simply, no thinking is done inside of a vacuum. All thinking, in effect, takes place inside some metaphorical and contextual box, so describing innovation as ‘outside the box’ thinking would imply a new language or perspective that has never been remotely considered before. Outside the box thinking represents an untethered and disconnected way of processing information, embarking into the unknown future with little to no context supporting one’s inquiry into what’s possible. Neither thinking that is outside or inside the box is bad, per se, but an inside-out approach provides context and sets some parameters within which to work based on real-time needs of employees, as well as customers and gaps in product experience in the current moment.

Take Uber, for example. Many critics acknowledge the visionary, outside the box thinking of its inventor and think that it came through a “Eureka moment” of insight. However, quite the opposite is true: the idea behind the innovative drive-sharing application originated from an in-depth consideration of various business contexts. The ‘innovation’ that resulted in the creation of Uber came from inside-the-box thinking, as product developers analyzed consumer demands, existing technology applications, and trends in the transportation economy to develop a new platform that addressed a gap in service and consumer’s behaviors and needs in an entirely new way.

When it comes to the process of evolution and understanding your specific organizational needs, it is essential to know the contexts within which you are operating. Understanding the metaphorical box which your organization operates in sets parameters that define who you are, what you do, and how you do it, which altogether guides the process of making advances and what will bring the most progress.

Many leaders question the box metaphor, but we have proven, through research and decades of results that the proper construct of the box can be not only defining but company changing. When we talk about the box, leaders often think four sides — they are correct in simple form, however, the organizational box is actually six sided. There are four sides – direction, operations, people and engagement — and a bottom – identity – and a top – environment. This dimensional box provides the proper construct for clarity and driving performance, safety, and employee engagement.

These six sides of your organization’s box are the functional framework of your company. Thinking from within this space creates synergies that allow you to evolve and make incremental improvements that can be applied in the real-time, engage your employees and connect them deeper to the core of the company, and affect your customers specifically, based on their needs and interests.

Taking an inside-out approach to innovation requires first an in-depth understanding of the contexts or dimensions within which you conduct business on a daily basis. Here are some suggested steps to take in order to create the space for you to continue enhancing your services and bettering the products that you bring to market.

Step One: Understanding Who You Are

The first step in creating a framework that will spark creativity and ingenuity that directly affects your organization is defining your unique, shared identity. Your identity serves as the foundation for everything else your organization does. It comprises your purpose (why we do what we do), characteristics (who we are), values (what we care about), and traditions (how we do things), constructing a cultural framework that distinguishes the interactions and process of working that your company lives and breathes by. Similar to a house, this cultural foundation makes the space within which all other ideas will emanate and expand.

Step Two: Understanding How You Work

Your foundation sets expectations around how you interface with clients and what values your company focuses on delivering to market. This context of your box defines the roles and goals of your organization at every level, integrating them in a framework to better facilitate collaboration and drive daily action. The strategy and the initiatives you implement are connected to your foundation and flow through all aspects of your organization. These pathways of action create the cycles of productivity from which your company’s bottom line is driven.

Step Three: Knowing Where You’re Going

Understanding the context of who you are, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it all takes place in the current state. However, in the hyper-competitive and saturated business world we exist in today, your organization needs to always be considering what’s next and looking into the future. A mission statement and company vision provide a panoramic view of where you’re going as a company in the long-term, which incentivizes and connects the daily operations now with a desired future. Without a vision guiding us, our ability to be creative and think about where we can improve becomes drastically limited. When this happens, the status quo becomes all too real, and your organization will inevitably wade in the comfort zone as others pass you by and deliver optimized solutions to your clients. But, by visioning the future of your company and sharing that with employees, you create another context of defined parameters that will drive profits and productivity and lead to new applications and improvements of ideas.

Step Four: Establishing a Window into the World

Once your organization’s framework has been defined, it creates context and dimensionality where you can continue expanding your company’s limits and outreach achieving better, more impactful results both internally and externally. It allows more thoughtful and productive allocation of resources and increased connectivity with managers and employees. With the foundation in mind that creates a structure for your thinking to exist in, you can begin assessing the external environment in which you offer services. Environmental scanning and organizational learning go hand-in-hand, as we listen to customer’s concerns, analyze broad market trends, and utilize new technology to deliver newly renovated and iterated products. With all these contextual clues to draw from, innovation becomes not only possible but probable and implementable. Instead of trying to think outside the box and come up with a disruptive new application of a product, inside-the-box thinking considers the existing functionality of your services and products to enhance the solutions they provide to your stakeholders.

As you embark on the quest for innovation and organizational development, remember that it is the context which sets parameters around what’s needed. And it is within this framework of thinking inside the box that real, practical innovation becomes replicable, reliable and infinitely more powerful.


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