Outside The Box – Thinking Outside the Fad

By Barry Maher

The strategy of being your own guru sometimes involves innovative thinking and finding innovative ways to fill the glass. Today conventional wisdom tells us we have to think outside the box. But truly innovative, outside the box thinking, comes from questioning conventional wisdom, questioning the basic premises we all tend to agree on.

Tip: Sometimes the first thing we need to question in order to think outside the box is the very idea of thinking outside the box.

Sometimes the clichés, the buzzwords and the management fads seem to take a life of their own. How many companies seemed to go through downsizing and/or re-engineering for the sake of downsizing or re-engineering: with no specific, well-thought out goals and no clear picture of the long term effects? They were bound and determined to save money, no matter how much it cost.

One of the authors of the original book on e-engineering the corporation, wrote a second book a few years later and said, in effect, “Stop it! You’re doing it all wrong.”

Substituting clichés for thought can cripple business as badly as it cripples government. A few years back, when focus was the word of the moment, I sat through a lengthy meeting in which a regional VP instructed his people to focus on 27 different variables. Twenty-seven! The man had no idea what the word focus even meant. And neither he nor his subordinates had any idea what he really wanted from them.

Nowadays, we’ve all learned that we have to embrace change, and we’ve learned it with such devotion that change has sometimes become an end in itself rather than a means to an end.

“We’ve been told so often that we’re living in an era of constant change that by gosh we are going to change–constantly,” is the way one frustrated manufacturing executive put it. “So we change the good and the excellent as well as the mediocre and the bad. I don’t know how it is with other companies, but around here we’re sacrificing too much of what we do best. Ask why, and the only justification you’re given–and as managers the only explanation we give our people–comes in the form of the latest management cliché. Whatever that might be this week.”

“It’s management by parody,” one of his peers added. “Because what they’re doing is usually a parody of the original idea that generated the cliché in the first place. That’s why Dilbert has become so popular. Not because it’s so outlandish, because it’s so true.”

“I’ll give you an old cliché,” the first executive said. “We’re re-inventing wheels everywhere you look. Only with the new paradigms the wheels can’t be round. Round wheels, that was the old, inside-the-box thinking. So the new wheels don’t roll as well as the old ones did.”

Sometimes getting outside the box means looking back into some of those old boxes we may have abandoned. Thinking outside the box means opening up potential solutions. If you ignore what’s currently in the box, simply because it’s inside the box, you may succeed in being novel at the expense of the tried and true.

Round wheels roll exceedingly well. No one who’s their own guru should be afraid to admit that.

Return to articles page

Return to newsletter archives

Find Me on Google+

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *