The author has been working in the IT industry in various capacities and is currently working for a Houston, Texas-based company.
This article addresses and explains what it means to ‘think outside the box,’ why it is so important in any industry and how it has helped many industries/companies to transition the business outcome from mediocre to extraordinary.
Introduction: The phrases ‘reframing,’ ‘lateral thinking,’ ‘process improvements, ‘thinking outside the box,’ and the like are very powerful concepts worthy of deeper investigation and practice than just another management cliché in today’s complex and dynamic business world.
The world runs on Internet time said former Intel chief Andy Grove in 2001, after the ‘Webization’ of corporates the world over. It is much more important for thinking heads of global companies to have folks on payroll, who can ‘think outside the box’ to compete with global giants.
In the modern era of a highly competitive global environment, apart from the five forces of Michael Porter and three forces of Larry Downes, the key is to have a ‘out of the box’ thinking strategy to succeed.
Thinking outside the box: An interpretation
It is never easy to ‘think outside the box,’ nor is it reflection of one’s intelligence. For a given problem, some people tend to explore solutions in the unknown world, which requires creativity, mental toughness, agility and boldness. Often the individual is a leader in the true sense, but we do not have to be leaders to think outside the box.
Exploring an unknown world means ‘to investigate the unused path leaving the psychological comfort zone.’ It is thinking beyond the parameters of human consciousness and experience — to see beyond the norm, to be a visionary.
It means leaving behind frustration, anger, stress, and fear. Can you be creative, moving the consciousness ‘out of the box’ to move out of your physical form? Life is a journey and exploring the muddle is an adventure.
So how do you think outside the box? Well, it all begins with how we think and consider things. I am sure; we were, are and will be trapped in the maze of thinking forever. The reality is that most of the world follows conventional wisdom. We have been thought to think in routine ways from early days of school: trapped in a matrix or a box.
A liberal, open mind, unconventional wisdom, the zeal to be different, and a nonconformist approach to uncover things. . . that is like thinking outside the box. One should think beyond the barriers of political, economic, social and ego barriers to ‘think outside the box.’
For example, companies could reduce lifecycle costs and development time by 20-25% when they bid for application development and services, if they were to actively participate and adopt open source frameworks, libraries and architecture. I don’t see many companies associating the value addition provided by open source when bidding for projects.
Recently I read in BusinessWeek that GM is trying to hire multiple companies to deliver IT outsourcing services. All big companies — such as IBM, EDS, HP — are competing for an approximately $15 billion business. GM no longer has to rely on one single company. The company that has the best strategy to solve GM’s IT services problem could get the major pie. Now GM creating a competition platform and a level playing field to deliver the best quality solutions at viable costs is thinking outside the box.
Another example. Christopher Brennan, regional manager for British Petroleum, facing limitations and stagnation in gas station sales, thought of installing kiosks to boost sales. These kiosks played an important role in transforming the channel sales. This is thinking outside the box.
It is actually easier to think outside the box
I decided to do some research, quite literally. I brought a 42′ HD-TV box from my garage into my living room. I tried to put myself and close the lid at the top. After pushing the self-timer button on my camera, I almost fell on my face while trying to get into the box before the picture was snapped. My conclusion, therefore, is that it is much easier, and certainly much safer, to think outside the box.
The need for thinking outside the box
The person at the top feels that the quality of solutions, services or ideas in vogue is not great. This stems from frustration. It also comes from people working in teams who feel that the contribution of others is not helping find new and original solutions to the challenges of the modern world.
Characteristics of thinking outside the box
Thinking outside the box requires different characteristics:
- One should be willing to take new perspectives to day-to-day work.
- One should be capable of thinking differently with an open mind, think about stuff with substance, and do things differently.
- One must focus on the value of finding new ideas and acting on them.
- One must strive to create value in newer ways.
- One must be capable of listening to, supporting, nurturing and respecting others when they come up with new ideas.
Out-of-the box thinking requires openness to new ways of seeing the world and a willingness to explore. ‘Out of the box’ thinkers know that new ideas need nurturing and support. They also know that having an idea is good, but acting on it is more important. Results are what count.
In an effort to introduce the concept of thinking outside the box, I have tried my best to explain the relevance and how it is being used in companies to deliver best-in-breed solutions. Any company that was, is and will be successful, if it spends some time in nurturing and supporting thinking out side the box.
The best part is that the concept can be introduced in any industry segment, any domain and in any department of an organisation, without any limitations.
At the end of the day, it is not only Porter’s laws or new terms that are introduced that will drive the economies of the global world, but also the ability to create, cultivate and carry the concept of ‘thinking outside the world.’
I think, it is fair enough to say that, Porter applied the ‘thinking outside the box’ concept to existing strategies and competitive forces to devise his visionary statements. How many of us could do that? Not many, I would say.
Here’s a simple and quick puzzle to test your ability to think outside the box.
You have nine dots or points divided into three rows a row consists of three points or dots, each spaced approximately two inches away from the other. You have to connect all the nine points by a maximum of 4 lines without revisiting the dots or points more than once.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Michael Porter, Larry Downes, Nicholas Negroponte and many others who have inspired me to write this article.