Think outside the box and jump outside the jar

iStock_000017965547XSmall-resized-600I really hate the expression ‘think outside the box’. In my experience when someone asks you to ‘think outside the box’ it doesn’t help you to be creative, it just puts you under pressure to come up with quick fix solutions and makes you feel scorned and rejected for not being more ‘outside the box’ in the first place.

We think inside boxes because that is how we have been conditioned from an early age. At school we learn that we get rewarded for conforming, for getting things right, and not for inquisitive enquiry or being a maverick or a disruptor which is what ‘thinking outside the box’ requires. Because thinking inside the box is ingrained into us from an early age it’s not realistic to simply ask people to ‘think outside the box’ and expect that they will easily be able to do it.

I was speaking at the International Fundraising Congress last week and I had the pleasure of listening to the opening keynote by Dan Pallotta on innovation with purpose.

It turns out that it’s not just humans that are held back by the limitations that are conditioned into them. It applies to fleas too.

Check out this short film on how to train fleas.

Training fleas requires a glass jar with a lid. The fleas are placed inside the jar and the lid is sealed. They are left undisturbed for three days. Then when the jar is opened the fleas will not jump out. The fleas will never jump higher than the level set by the lid. When the fleas reproduce their offspring will automatically follow their example.

Asking people to change the habits of a lifetime by ‘thinking outside the box’ or even ‘jumping outside the jar’ simply isn’t a reasonable or realistic request.

How might we banish ‘thinking outside the box’ as a phrase and better help ourselves and support our colleagues to really innovate and make change happen?

I’d love to know your thoughts, and you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my new book The Innovation Workout.

7 Comments on “Think outside the box and jump outside the jar

  1. yes 🙂 most of all “jump outside the jar” wasn’t that amazing!! Never heard of that experiment before. Have to show my grandchildren: what a great lesson!
    It was nice to see you again. See you soon. All the best, M

  2. What is really deflating though is when you are one of the people who regularly thinks ‘outside the box’ and your contributions aren’t welcome because they are ‘too out there’. It causes me no end of frustration.

  3. What’s upsetting and deflating is when thinking ‘outside the box’ is the default for some people (i.e. me) and then suggestions and solutions are considered too ‘out there’. Stifling creativity to meet standards of ‘normal’ or ‘how everyone else does it’ is really frustrating.

    • YES! And this happens a lot, sometimes its a case of influencing and coaching others to be bolder, sometimes its regrouping on WHY its so important to think differently – and sometimes it could be your signal to leave and find an environment that shares and nurtures your ambition and creativity. Whatever option – getting ‘in the box’ isn’t the option. Always remember that.

      • Sorry for the double post – connectivity issues. Yes, that’s exactly it. I’m not the round peg fitting in the square hole anymore, but still looking for the right sized round hole! (So to speak!)

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