What does it mean to think outside the box? In terms of what my boss was asking me to do, it was about coming up with new ideas, and seeking to be a bit more creative because the standard approaches were just not cutting it! But there is no easy way to re-conceptualise a problem you have been looking at for years and find a new, exciting alternative that will work! So what can you do to get out of the rut you are in? Here are 8 suggestions of things that I do that might help:
- Create a definition of the real problem! Everybody’s box is different so you need to be sure the problem you are presented with is the real problem and not just the symptom of a deeper issue. Discipline yourself to write it down, and interrogate it asking who? what? when? where? why?
- Read! Get as much information as you can on the issues and all the possible solutions. When discussing a problem with my son his standard answer is “Did you google it?” None of us have all the answers, so search broadly and ignore at this stage the usual restrictions eg “that would be too expensive” or “but we have always done it this way”.
- Explain! Make sure the other members of your team understand what you are asking them to do. Sadly, the first two steps sometimes get in the way but this is essential if you are going to get creative innovative answers. This usually finds its way to my journal as part of the process of understanding the left and right of arc.
- Adapt! Use what you know or can find out from other industries, disciplines and work places to find out how others might have solved similar problems. I have even discovered that there are times when I can learn new things from history that can be adapted to my modern problem.
- Turn it upside down! Solutions are sometimes easier to see if you can see the issue from a new perspective. There are also times when you need to start from what a solution might look like and work back towards the problem! Draw a picture or a flow diagram, as this type of activity stimulates the left-brain and not just the right-brain logical thinking.
- Investigate all options! There have been times when I have been asked for out of the box solutions yet felt that no matter what I said, it would be rejected out of hand as impossible! If you ask for help, take everything seriously even if it initially looks impossible.
- Value diversity! Make sure that you get help from a wide range of people, female as well as male and from a range of cultural backgrounds. Get input from children and those who may think they have nothing of value to offer and you may be surprised with what you find.
- Expect God to help! Prayer is a natural part of my approach to hard questions, but when I keep asking I often feel like there are no answers! Sometimes the key is to do all the above then go for a surf, cycle or walk and when I least expect it, the solution hits me!
As I continue to look at the problem my boss gave me, I haven’t got any “real” answers but when we get together as a team I am hopeful that from our combined contributions we may be able to move forward in a CREATIVE way. In the Defence context I’m not convinced that we are able to think (or work) outside the box, we may just need to be content with pushing the boundaries to make the box bigger!
I S Whitley AM