I’m in a box, and not just any old curbside corrugated box. On no, I’m special. This is the box we’re all supposed to think out of. Yeah, that box, and I really wish I were somewhere else because it means I have an issue, a problem. Ever been there?
This is the box that by the time you’ve identified it as that box, you know you’ve got a problem. You also know you don’t know how to resolve it. In short, what you’ve done hasn’t worked, perhaps it’s made things worse, and a new word takes its rightful place in your vocabulary: flummoxed.
As surely as you won’t win the lotto, you note the talking heads move their lips as if they were addressing you: “Think outside the box,” (TOTB) they say; perceive things differently; act differently; use different tools; reach out to someone (anyone) and maybe whisper loud enough to be heard, “A little help here?”
By the time you start hearing from everyone around you, including your ex, iPhone’s Siri, your Uber driver, that you should TOTB, you know your problem is serious. (Maybe this is how some exasperated people end up on the Dr. Phil show after seeking guidance from a rinky-dink lawyer, himself under indictment for something or other, or from a homeless guy collecting real corrugated boxes.)
What exactly does that mean to TOTB? If I could instantly think outside the metaphorical box, wouldn’t that mean that I’m already outside it and the solution clear? Or am I inside the box imagining I’m outside the box looking at the issues? I think it’s supposed to be the later, but the reality is I’m inside the box and I see walls, a ceiling, and a floor (read formidable issues, problems, concerns).
I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled from time to time trying to resolve an issue in my work or personal life where being able to think outside that box might have shown me the way, but I couldn’t see past the problem itself, the box.
Let me rephrase that: I didn’t just struggle to no avail. Ultimately, I resolved things by using tools inside the box, tools available to me all along. In the end, I didn’t have to be, see, or think outside the box per se. In the end, it might have been brute force (read crunch time panic) that made me punch through a wall, or dig under the wall, to resolve an issue. Fear is a hell of a motivator.
I’m intrigued with someone’s problem solving ability when they can show me it was their thinking outside the box that saved the day. I now try to resolve all issues that way. I didn’t say I was good at doing it, I said I try, yet I think I found the secret.
For example: When I was in sales years ago as a commissioned stockbroker there were periods of time when lack of sales caused concern (panic was a better term back then). Back in the day, a time that the earth’s crust was still cooling, my motivational self-talk was: “There are no problems, only solutions.” Now this self-talk has been useful, but there are times when life, that mocking jokester of any well thought out plan, will just throw you a curve that turns your lily pad upside down. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
When it comes to TOTB, what I know is that if I were somehow outside the damn thing I could see around all six sides. I guess I might envision, until now, unthought-of options to solve a particular problem since perhaps I’d notice what outside forces or pressure were keeping the lid down, the walls up, and the floor impenetrable.
However, I’m inside the box. I am only able to see the inside metaphorical construction, the problem(s).
What I’ve learned from experience is that I can get outside that box by admitting that it was my best thinking that got me here, inside the box. This is not easily done, at least for me, but once I’ve accepted it, the lights come on, walls start to buckle, the box lid is suddenly ajar.
“My best thinking got me here,” I think about that before I look for scapegoats now. Note, it’s not my near best thinking or my good thinking… I’m smart, says I, so it’s always my best thinking. Reality just has a way of saying pay attention, like a 2×4 across the forehead.
Some of you may note that the line, “My best thinking got me here,” is used in various twelve-step recovery programs. Clearly it works in those situations, but one need not be in any recovery program to appreciate the simple truth therein.
If that’s true, that my best thinking put me in that box, and there was no plan B, and I accept it, claiming that problem as my own monstrous creation, unintentional as it might be, at that point I am outside the box. Getting ego out-of-the-way, admitting error in some capacity – maybe the original plan had flaws, maybe the execution was flawed, but regardless, I own this box… after all, my best decisions got me here, thus, my responsibility.
At that point it is my box, I own that baby, which after some changes (because nothing changes until something changes) it can become a platform to stand on to see a new horizon, a new way of doing things, a new goal, and I can move up.
I note that a box on top of another, and another, and another could be designed as a stairway.
I’m on my way up!