Quit thinking outside of the box

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Grow­ing up, I was taught to think out­side of the box. I have no issue with big pic­ture think­ing, but I have quit think­ing out­side the box. I’ve trad­ed it for some­thing bet­ter.

When peo­ple say think out­side of the box, they mean well. Encour­ag­ing cre­ativ­i­ty and imag­i­na­tion is a GOOD thing. But the phrase think out­side of the box has become a cliché, overused motif adopt­ed by supe­ri­ors to describe what some­body should do when they sim­ply need a new idea. I believe this is unhelp­ful advice for peo­ple who have to be cre­ative AND make things hap­pen.

Beware when outside of the box ideas surface

Out­side of the box ideas” sur­face all the time in conversation—especially for those who get paid to do cre­ative work. They often require more bud­get or dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

Imag­ine you man­age a brand host­ing a one-day con­fer­ence at a big hotel. A few hun­dred peo­ple will be in atten­dance. In a “strate­gic meet­ing,” some­one says, Wouldn’t it be great if we could give an iPad and limo ride to every­one who attends? Well, yeah…that would be great. That’s some­thing attain­able with human resources. But we don’t have the bud­get to pay for 300 iPads, and this is sup­posed to be an infor­mal event. That’s not a use­ful con­tri­bu­tion! Sure, if the sky was the lim­it, that’s some­thing that could hap­pen, but that doesn’t mean we should pur­sue it.

Out­side of the box ideas” encour­age thinkers to cri­tique the sta­tus quo. But what hap­pens when you must be sat­is­fied with the cur­rent sched­ule? What hap­pens when the bud­get is as high as it will go? All of the “wouldn’t it be great if”s and “imag­ine if we had”s float back to the clouds. They evap­o­rate. They are for­got­ten about—not because they were impossible—but because its time for the real work to get done. Time to get down to busi­ness. The per­son think­ing out­side of the box has to decide if she is going to get on the bus, or be a dream­er.

A better strategy: think INSIDE the box

I have close­ly researched cre­ative thinkers who made mas­ter­pieces. The results are stag­ger­ing: cre­ative ideas almost nev­er come from believ­ing the sky is the lim­it. The best cre­ative ideas grow inside the box. The box is what MAKES the cre­ativ­i­ty hap­pen. When you grasp this, you’ll start to view cre­ative work dif­fer­ent­ly.

Thinking INSIDE the box is where creativity begins

If inside the box think­ing is a bet­ter strat­e­gy for being cre­ative AND get­ting things done, you have to have a frame­work to live by. Here are four ideas for you to con­sid­er:

  1. The sky is NOT the lim­it. Allow­ing ANY idea into your head will hin­der your cre­ativ­i­ty. Focus.
  2. Don’t reach for the stars, reach for the ceil­ing. Get a lad­der or a chair and make it hap­pen. Stop think­ing about it.
  3. The bud­get is your friend—use it to get cre­ative. Sweat-equi­ty or elbow grease is a beau­ti­ful thing.
  4. Make do with what you have. You already have more than enough. Believ­ing you don’t is a sto­ry you choose to believe.

Case Studies

The fol­low­ing list are a few cre­atives who thought inside the box to SHIP ideas that got them noticed. These peo­ple were not overnight suc­cess sto­ries. They made do with the bud­get and cre­at­ed mas­ter­ful projects that inspired peo­ple. Learn from them.

  1. Dr Seuss: Green Eggs and HamDr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 dif­fer­ent words, so his edi­tor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 dif­fer­ent words. Dr. Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham , one of the best­selling chil­dren books of all time.” From Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist, page 138.
  2. Vince Gilli­gan: Break­ing Bad You might believe that the crazy suc­cess­ful TV show must have had the abil­i­ty to do what­ev­er they want­ed, right? It turns out, Vince and his writ­ers made deci­sions based on who was avail­able and how much mon­ey was left. They had to think inside the box. Tuco left sea­son 2 because Ray­mond Cruz had been con­tract­ed to shoot a movie. Their shoot­ing sched­ule revolved around the Albu­querque Air­port sched­ule because their sound stage was near­by.
  3. Mark Phillips: Ser­i­al Pod­cast Mix­ing engi­neer & com­pos­er Mark Phillips not only wrote music for Ser­i­al, he also mixed the episodes in sea­son 1. The pro­duc­tion sched­ule was tight. He had a small win­dow to write musi­cal cues and fin­ish episodes to go live on Thurs­day morn­ings. He worked on the music right before it was released. You would think the pod­cast with mil­lions of down­loads would have had a relaxed sched­ule to let every­one think out­side of the box, right? Not so much.

Embrace constraints

If cre­ative work is a reg­u­lar part of your work, it’s time to embrace the con­straints and use “the box” to ener­gize your cre­ative work.

[share­able cite=“Josh Mitchell”]Embrace con­straints and use “the box” to ener­gize your cre­ative work.[/shareable]

[reminder]What do you think? How do con­straints allow you to be more creative?[/reminder]

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