Burst of Innovation - Why You Should Stop Saying "Outside The Box" To Your Team

Stop saying think outside the box innovation

How many of us have said “outside the box” or been in a room when someone else has said it? It’s something I’ve been guilty of too, but the reality is that this concept is actually detrimental to and hurting your innovation efforts. 


Innovation is key for all of us personally and professionally. There is no doubt that you need to think differently and be disruptive in today's marketplace to succeed. However, there is a better way to go about cultivating innovation in your team than pushing them to “think outside the box”. Whether you look at it from the mindset perspective, the communication perspective or the implementation perspective, using this phrase is sabotaging your innovation efforts.


Mindset Perspective

The phrase “think outside the box” comes from a place of good intent. Yet, what it does from a mindset perspective is it actually shuts down your brain and makes it resistant to the idea. Why?


Your brain is wired to be efficient. It wants to do what it knows, and what it has done in the past. It tends toward doing things that are comfortable, to the point that 90% of our thoughts on any given day are repetitive. Telling someone to “think outside the box” inevitably causes their brain to shut down because it isn’t part of the routine or the familiar.


To our brains, thinking outside the box is scary and frightening. You’re asking someone to not only expend energy to do something different, but you’re asking them to walk away from everything they know. Their brain interprets this as being asked to leap off a cliff into the unknown without any parachutes, and it immediately shuts itself down.


Communication Perspective

Imagine your box to be your life and your work - everything that you know. What lies outside the box? Wide-open space. If I tell you to think outside the box, it’s a difficult concept to grapple with. 


Where do you focus? Where do you land? What do you look at? Where do you go? It’s so hard to imagine. From a communication standpoint, saying “outside the box” doesn’t add clarity. It adds confusion and is unclear. Essentially, it is an unhelpful expression that adds to the mess, rather than fostering innovation.


Implementation Perspective

Something that happens with companies regularly is they form an innovation team to create something “outside the box”. The team goes off and comes up with something great and truly “outside the box”, yet they struggle or fail to implement these innovative new ideas.


The reason why this happens is because the new ideas are too far “outside the box”, to the point that there’s no connection to the reality of the situation. When people can’t see how the dots are connected between new innovations and their current reality, they reject these new ideas, and the concept of “outside the box” breaks down from an implementation perspective.


Rearrange the Box

If “outside the box” doesn’t work to promote innovation, and instead shuts down innovation, what can we do instead? It is one of the biggest myths that we have to think outside the box, and that the box is something that traps us. In reality, the box can actually set you free if you think about it right. 


Forget about “outside the box”. Instead, start thinking about how to rearrange the box that you have.


From a mindset perspective, your brain sees that as something you can do, as something that won't take as much energy, and it will be more receptive to it. Your brain is open to it and can accept it as something that is doable, and that openness can help drive innovative and disruptive ideas. 


Communication-wise, saying “rearrange the box” makes your expectations very clear. You’re asking your team to rearrange what's in front of you, not to leap into the unknown. It gives them some guard rails, just enough to understand how to innovate.


In terms of implementation, when your team “rearranges the box” to come up with innovative ideas, it is grounded enough in reality that it can be executed. The groundbreaking ideas that come through have enough of a connection to the current situation to be doable.


There's an incredible opportunity to innovate with what's right in front of us. We just need to start thinking about it differently. Moving from “outside the box” to “rearrange the box” helps you and your team get to more brilliant innovation and disruptive ideas.


Stop saying think “outside the box”. Let’s start asking ourselves and our teams to rearrange the box that we have because the innovation and the disruption that comes out of it is even more powerful.

Watch the video to learn how to stop saying "outside the box" to your team.