We all feel creativity, innovation, new thinking, etc. are a good thing in life and business. We often use the term “thinking outside of the box” to summarise this process.
But what is the box? And when are we thinking outside of it?
Some years ago I was on a high. I was the CEO of a large national organisation that was thriving and had a great executive team. We were growing annually at a great rate and all indicators were good. Our teamwork was good and we had our collective heads comprehensively around all the issues and our success was showing it.
One day, I was chatting with the Duke of Edinburgh…(hows that for name dropping? Ive been trying for years to drop that statement into a conversation… thanks for reading!). Anyway… I was prattling on to the Duke about our great expansion and success, feeling very proud, and very creative.
The Duke listened graciously for a few minutes and then smiled nicely and said…
“Have you tried looking at…xxx?”
Confidently I responded and started to explain why that wouldn’t work… certain that my knowledgeable, expert, great team (and great me!) had thought it all through and had the answers…
Besides, what would an old naval officer who has spent most of his life walking one pace behind his wife know about modern business reality!
He listened to my “defence” for about 3.5 milliseconds before his face went blank, he turned his head, found the person standing beside me so overwhelmingly more interesting, and moved off.
I was left standing there… sort of wishing a hole would open in the floor so I could just fall into it.
A couple of years later, our progress was slowing and we were plateauing in growth. The Executive group was gathered and brains were straining…
Then one of them came up with an idea… Immediately, the others acclaimed it as creative and “outside the box” and the solution that we needed.
Me? I just wanted to find that hole in the floor again…
It was exactly the idea the Duke of Edinburgh had suggested!
There were two lessons that lodged permanently in my head from that experience.
- First, despite my own brilliance and wisdom and the great team I had around me, we simply didn’t have a monopoly on all ideas and all perspectives. We were in fact more inside a certain box of thinking than we realised. And the more thorough and more comprehensive and more creative we were, the more convinced we were that we were not in a box… but we were.
- The other lesson was… new ideas or inspirations are often to be found in situations or through people who are clearly and demonstrably not inside that box… And a Royal Prince from the UK pretty well fitted that description!
So where is that next new great idea going to come from. Good chance it will come from your own skilled and knowledgeable creative self or colleagues… BUT… if your eyes are open and mind receptive and hungry, it just might come from… a school kid, or an old woman on the streets, or a politicians speech, or a competitor, you never know.
It’s simple.. the world is full of ideas. Your job is to see them and convert them into effective reality…
BEWARE of the box… once you’re in it its hard to see what’s outside of it.