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February 16, 2005

More on The Box

I was asked about a simple graphic I posted sometime ago that tried to illustrate my view of "Thinking outside the box." So, I thought I would take another stab at it.

Everyone knows the funny definition of an optimist and a pessimist. An optimist looks at a glass of water and decides it's half full, while the pessimist looks at the same glass and decides it's half empty.  And then there's the view I usually take, which is that the glass just isn't big enough.

The same thing is true of "thinking outside the box." Some people tend to be "think inside the box" types. They follow procedure. If it isn't in the manual, or in their past experience, then they won't try it, or can't begin to imagine it. Their motives are good. They want to contribute and be successful, as long as it doesn't involve breaking new ground.


There are also the "think outside the box" types - always challenging, never wanting to stick with the status quo. They believe that only the new and untried has significant value. That the future lies 'out there' rather than 'in here.'

There is also a third type. One that rarely gets mentioned, but exists never the less. One that believes in "thinking the box." Their life, their identity, their reason for existence gets tied up in actively preserving the status quo, in making sure the rules never get broken or even threatened.

In my particular case, this trio maps pretty closely to father (think inside the box), mother (think the box), and child (think outside the box.)

We tend to classify roles and behaviors in a binary fashion. Something is either right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative, black or white. To some extent, that's a reasonable and somewhat workable approach - at least we manage to somehow survive that way. Yet in the very act of classifying things that way we make value judgments that drive decisions and behaviors. And once we 'decide' something it's very hard to change it. In fact, the origin of the word 'decide' stems from exactly that meaning:

1a. To settle conclusively all contention or uncertainty about: decide a case; decided the dispute in favor of the workers. b. To make up one's mind about: decide what to do. 2. To influence or determine the outcome of: A few votes decided the election. 3. To cause to make or reach a decision. 
INTRANSITIVE VERB: 1. To pronounce a judgment; announce a verdict. 2. To make up one's mind. 
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English deciden, from Old French decider, from Latin dcdere, to cut off, decide : d-, de- + caedere, to cut;

In the process of deciding that "thinking inside the box" is right, we automatically classify "thinking outside the box" as wrong. And, we cut off that alternative, that approach, even though we may find ourselves in desperate need of it sometime in the future when we are facing different circumstances. The world around us is constantly changing, mutating, and evolving. Tomorrow's challenges will, in all likelihood, be completely different from the ones that preoccupy our every waking moment at this point in our life.

All the roles, all three of them, are valid and useful - depending on the situation we find ourselves in. We should strive to develop each one of the roles within ourselves, and within our organizations.


February 16, 2005 | Permalink


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