The box is a lie!

The box! What is the box? is it the teaching and constructs we’ve been taught over the years? the sum of experience and know-how? the various community or industry constraints and rules put upon us to conform? – Regardless what the box may be, everybody always tells us to “Think outside of the box”.

However, is “Thinking outside of the box” real? or is it something else? I personally believe the first element, and also the crucial part of that phrase is “Thinking”. Most people are not truly accustomed to thinking, they are mostly accustomed to “doing”, “following”, “leading” – not “thinking”. So, what am I ranting about exactly?

As a technology innovator I don’t believe the box is really there, a problem is a challenge to be resolved – it is not a box. As you can’t confine a problem/challenge to a box, it is an amorphous entity – my thinking patterns can’t be “outside of the box, simple because there is no BOX! The box is only in our mind – forcing ourselves to “Out of box” thinking is actually putting ourselves back into the confines of the box.

Solving complex challenges requires thinking first, then innovation and delivery. While thinking is something most people take for granted, as they believe they do it all the time, it’s actually a fairly complex process. Thinking involves one very special thing – that is letting go. Letting go of your own inhibitions, letting go of your own fear – and foremost, the willingness to step out of your normal comfort zone and looking at problems from a fresh new angle.

Over the course of time, I’ve been involved with multiple ventures that required this type of thinking. Some were successful, some had failed miserably – and some had went up in flames, that left the earth around its remains mostly scorched – with friends now not willing to talk to one another. Why have these companies failed? why have they gone to ashes? most of them actually had very innovative products and ideas, it can’t be that they truly went up in flames – or was actually something else that causes its demise?

Again, we come back to the box – and the realisation that the box, isn’t really a box – it’s an IKEA set of honeycombs, stacked together into a highly complex array of shelves, that are barely viable to the naked eye – but to the keen observer, will present multiple opportunities and possibilities.

Companies, regardless of their industry, are normally built of the same operational units:
1. Management
2. Marketing
3. Sales
4. Operations
5. Human Resources
6. Research and Development
7. Manufacturing

Now, normally – we would expect “out-of-box” thinking from R&D, Marketing and Sales. However, these will always be limited to the ability of Management and Operations to think “out-of-box”. If company management is limited by its thinking – that will automatically affect all operational units in the company – which will eventually bring to its slow and gruesome demise.

Another reason for untimely demise is the inability to respect the so called “Box”. It may be that you are willing to let go of the box, you are willing to say: “The box isn’t real”, but, it may be that your target market or audience is still kept in the “Box”. In such a case, taking your audience out of the “Box” is a highly challenging task – where most pioneers will fail. Why will it fail? it takes a very special individual to be able to do that. Not only he needs to be a true visionary, he needs to be able to convince other people of his belief. And most importantly, it can’t be some random hired person – it has to be a founder, a true believe of the cause, a person so capable of immersing himself in the idea – that it becomes an integral part of his being, anything else will just not work.

It takes a true genius to take an audience and shift their minds from the box, very few had succeeded. Look around you? how many people do you know of who are capable of doing that? Personally speaking, I can list a few, but counting will require less than my right hand. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Stephen Hawking – these are all pioneers who had challenged the “box” and managed to educate the audience that the “box” isn’t really there. Was Steve Jobs a technology genius? – NO. Is Elon Musk a master electrical engineer, most probably not. They are thought leaders, mind shapers – they are the ones will look at and say: “He’s a smart guy, maybe I should listen to him”, and it’s not really because they are smart. It’s because they were able to convince us, with their own conviction and determination, that they should be listened to.

Dr. Who once said: “I’m just a mad man in a box” (Yes, I’m a moderate whovian), that is further from the truth. The tardis is always “bigger on the inside”, and thus, the “Box” isn’t limited to own physical borders, and anything always “out-of-box”.

So, next time you encounter a problem, try challanging yourself by saying: “Ok, let’s think about this from a new point of view, maybe there is another solution”. Next time when you interview someone for a position at your company, try to say: “Ok, is this guy truly what my team needs? or do I need something else?” – look at the box, shatter it to pieces and build something new from it – out of chaos comes order – out of rubble comes greatness.