The value of thinking inside the box and not outside the box

Many people think having parameters and constraints stops them finding the best solution and inhibits their thinking, but the opposite is true

As a young creative director many years ago, I spent time learning organisational creativity at Disney. One of the things I have never forgotten was to think inside the box. Yes…you read that right.

Let me explain.

It’s one thing to know what problem you are trying to solve or opportunity you are trying to leverage. Whether it is how to create the best event experience, or how to step up to the next rung on your career ladder, or whatever area of professional development you want to focus on.  Clarity of what you are trying to achieve is everything. A common trait of successful executive assistants is they are geniuses at finding problems or opportunities (known as gaps) that if addressed create massive benefits. 

However, finding a gap is one thing, but understanding the constraints and parameters attached to it is another. In other words, what are the boundaries and parameters you need to work within? These are things such as budget, deadlines, resources, lack of resources, policies and procedures, staffing, and legislations. 

The box is a symbol where each side represents a parameter or a constraint that you need to work within. It’s a reminder that to come up with ingenious ideas and solutions you need to stay within the parameters. In other words, you need to think inside the box and not outside it. Otherwise, any ideas you have won’t be viable or doable.

Many people think having parameters and constraints stops them finding the best solution and inhibits their thinking, but the opposite is true. The more you define and understand your boundaries the easier it is for you to find a solution.

Think of it this way. If you need to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming event you wouldn’t just throw ideas around a room without understanding what resources you have. For example, what the event objective is, what your budget is, who is your audience, what COVID-19 restrictions do you need to work with. Without knowing these things, it is hard to come up with ideas because your mind wanders off and starts blue-skying (a term used to define ideas with no purpose). The chances are any your ideas will be ineffective. Knowing the parameters gives you clear direction and as a result gets you solving problems creatively.

Another reason people often feel restricted when parameters are involved is, they view them as barriers. Again, let’s go back to the event example. If you have $10,000 as the budget some people will instantly tell themselves that you can’t create an event for $10,000. However, knowing this is your budget you can then ask, “How can you hold an event for this much?” or “How can you approach potential sponsors and partners?”

Not only will this method get you laser focused but it will help ensure your ideas will be viable, useful and actionable. Btw…depending on the situation, how many sides the box has may have vary, (2 to 6 is optimum).

Nigel Collin is a change and leadership expert helping people and organisations make change happen through small consistent steps. He is author of ’Game of Inches’ nd an internationally recognised keynote speaker and executive coach