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Let’s begin with an interesting story. In a distant land, there was once an 18-wheel tractor trailer that got stuck in a tunnel as it was too tall. Numerous engineers and rescue personnel tried many unconventional and the so-called outside-the-box methods but failed miserably to dislodge it. In walked an eight-year-old boy and suggested deflating the tires. And with that, the problem was solved. All the creative geniuses were left in the dust by a kid. So, thinking outside the box is nothing but a metaphor that means having a new, unthought-of perspective. 

Thinking Outside the Box: Good or Bad?

Let’s get back to the 70s, the time when “thinking outside the box” became a catchphrase. This famous management cliche has had humble beginnings: the puzzle that requires you to cover all the nine dots laid in a 3 x 3 order. We need to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots, and never lifting the pencil from the paper. The solution is surprisingly simple in hindsight. It is easily solved by drawing the lines outside the confines of the square area defined by the nine dots themselves. The phrase “thinking outside the box” is a restatement of the solution strategy. The puzzle only seems difficult because people commonly imagine a boundary around the edge of the dots.

There are numerous incidents that require us to think outside the box or should I say “our” box? I am using the term”our” box because the definition of the box is different for each one of us. As a simple case in point, think about an employee of some small-scale company. He might be wondering why his salary always gets delayed. But he might not think about the obvious: the company isn’t making enough profits.

Talking about the positive sides of thinking outside the box, here’s a story of the person who first thought of electronic refrigerators. There was a time when some companies used to sell “ice boxes,” which were insulated boxes with ice in them. The company owners thought that the new refrigerator was just a fad and eventually fell into oblivion. Now the guy in question was living in times when the electrical industry was experimental and had not yet fully figured out the multiple uses of electricity. Then one day, he probably thought about keeping food fresh for more than the two days this ice box guarantees. He probably must have brainstormed about ways to keep things cold using electricity. And bingo! He created something as ubiquitous as our essential kitchen fridges and also made a ton of money in the process. His box was different from ours. Isn’t it?

Thinking outside the box also helps you in day-to-day situations, like interviews, cooking, gift giving or painting. Analyzing data, handling resources and many other things can also be handled efficiently by tried-and-tested methods. Sometimes, the solution lies inside the box. Mostly, in all the small decisions you make in life, you might take the predictable route. And that is not bad. It just might be in your best interest if you watered the plants in a conventional way lest you end up burning down your house in the process.

However, it’s not necessary to overthink about solving a problem using complex, out-of-box methods and eventually overlook simple solutions. There’s a Zen saying, “What you resist persists, and what you allow to be disappears.” Thinking outside the box without understanding the box is a petulant exercise in resistance Sometimes, the exhortation to think outside the box becomes ubiquitous. It pays lip service to the notion of transformation without really understanding the difference between transformation and change. Often, people tend to ignore the real thinking that must occur for an idea to be truly outside the existing paradigm. You cannot possibly think outside the box unless you understand the nature of the box that bounds your current thinking. One should know that nature deeply and have real insight into it. You must accept it, and embrace it at some level, before it will ever release you.

To sum it up, outside-the-box thinking is perfect for situations that fall outside your sphere of normality. But figure out the box you’re in. If you try to get out before you understand the box’s parameters, you’ll just stay stuck inside of it. And that’s exactly what it wants.

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