My 5 year journey to defining: ‘thinking outside the box’

After hours of reflection and practice, I have come up with an actionable definition to ‘thinking outside the box’.

Since college I’ve said I was an out of the box thinker. It sounds great because everyone wants an out of the box thinker. Really, I never was. And after 5 years of testing, measuring and reflection I figured it out.

What is the box?

Just for ‘funsies’ I thought we could look at how Wikipedia defines it:

“think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective.”

Still no clarity…

My 5 year journey

My discovery of thinking outside the box was accidental. I was put on a new project to test a marketing tool in its beta stage. Beta means new, untested, and underdeveloped.

What do you do when taking on a new task, foreign to your experience? You try to find someone else that’s figured it out and achieved good results so you can mimic it. Google, friends, competitors and seeking advice from elders are always great resources to learn more...

I didn’t have those options available to me. So I had to figure it out on my own.

What happened?

I made serious results.

After a month testing I found it delivered results my colleagues in sales and the business development team found incredibly useful and were very happy about.

We then allocated more budget [from other paid channels] and scaled. It continued to be a success.

What did I learn?

I figured the success was attributed to being an early adopter of the new tool. Which was a factor to success, but with further hypothesizing and testing it was actually 4 other elements — which I now define as the box.

The absence of the box

Its fair to do. We want to be successful and not make mistakes. So we look to others to help us move forward.

Its not our fault — it’s just how we’re old to operate and think.

I continued to hypothesize and apply learnings to more projects. And years later, I figured it out.

To think outside the box, you must follow your gut and ignore the rest.

Forget “best practices”

When we want to learn something, we ‘Google it’. Results are peppered with best practices from company blogs promoting their solutions or consultancies on trends from recent projects.

It is all great insight to learning more on how to do or achieve whatever is important. And that would be perfect if it were a carbon copy of your situation.

If you could copy and paste another’s success, then everyone could do it.

At best, best practices give guidance and ideas to bolt-on and better current practices. Not define how to execute.

Forget “competitors”

Another thing we do is look at our competitors for help. Assuming they put in the money, time, and effort to figure it all out, it must be a great strategy so just follow suit!

Really we can’t. They could have put it together from thin air or developed it based on their company’s sweet spot. Therefore, its not for you.

Evaluation of your competitor’s strategy is there to understand their positioning and sales strategy. Use it to analyse their next move, not your next move.

Forget “your superior’s opinion”

This may be the most difficult side of the box to avoid. Your boss can’t help to offer their opinion and it will pigeon-hole your thinking in how to move forward.

First, its important to understand you were hired because you are smart/specialised/certified/complimentary in your field of work. So, if another gives you too much direction then it contradicts the reason you were hired to help the company grow!

Trust your gut and remain independent of others suggestions

Forget: “benchmarks or industry averages”

Adopting industry KPIs is unacceptable. You are limiting your success to what’s defined in the industry as average. Are you average?

Setting goals is a key component to success. Setting very high goals will achieve high goals but setting average goals will achieve average goals or less.

Knowing industry benchmarks is not a helpful insight. It merely sets your limit. Industry averages are only there once you have established metrics you are happy about; and then you can rate yourself and boast.

To think outside the box, you must follow your gut and ignore the rest

I still revert to these old ways, as a quick Google search or asking a question to a superior can happen so fast. Time is limited and it can be the easy route to completing a project. However, I do stop myself and commit the mental energy and time to creating something worthy.

It’s not enough to know 4 sides of the box but also have a creative development plan. First, knowing where your creative hours lie in the day — mine are from 9 AM to noon. I am hyper productive during this time with a good sleep and can tackle any complex task.

Second, I use my own creative brainstorming tools to construct ideas. Speaking out your ideas slows down your thoughts [as your brain can process information too quickly] and gives greater consideration to unfold ideas.

It pays off.

Let me know what you think, and what methods you use in being creative in the comments section below!



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B2B marketer obsessed with messaging, strategy, and marketing psychology.