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Find new ways to do old things

By Fay Kajee, Managing Director of Fountainhead Design

“Thinking outside the box” is one of the best known clichés in the business world. It means thinking creatively about a familiar or common practice and coming up with a new approach. It’s about innovation, lateral thinking, pushing the boundaries. In essence, finding new ways of doing old things.

Is there a secret to the process that only a few clever people know that will yield spectacular results? It took me many years to finally figure out that the key to real value adding “out-of-the-box thinking” lies in two basic principles:

  1. Know your current box. Understand it’s strengths, limitations, gaps and risks.
  2. Know why you want to do things differently, then dispense with pre-set goals that place constraints on thinking. 

This is the point at which I usually reach for a cup of coffee and ponder how to get out of the familiar box in which we live on almost any topic. So it’s important to first identify exactly which box it is that we are thinking about. We need to break down the boundaries of what we know and venture into the realm of the absurd and untested direction of what we need to think about but haven’t yet thought of.

Albert Einstein famously said “Only those who achieve the absurd can achieve the impossible”. He also said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. Yet we have to remain alert to the starting point so that we can assess the value of the new idea, and in doing so, resist the urge to over analyse and sabotage the process. The temptation to go back to what we know can be strong.

Once we commit to this, the process can be relatively straightforward: Use a combination of seemingly disparate ideas to craft new possibilities. Extract core principles and evaluate them in areas where they were never before. Look for alternatives and not a perfect fit. It calls for open-mindedness and courage.

In The Art of Possibility, Ben Zander says:

 

“In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.”

Creativity does not provide only one correct answer. There are many possibilities.

Throughout the process of thinking outside the box, it’s worth remembering that the world is not static. Therefore we should allow the existence of divergent and seemingly irrelevant information to challenge conventional notions. Failure to do so would result in obsolescence.