Have you ever been asked to “think outside of the box”? I thought this phrase was now extinct, but recently I heard it pop up during a meeting again, and in all seriousness too. Amazing.

Thinking outside the box is virtually impossible. You can stop saying it. It is about as useful as NOT trying to think about an elephant. Are you thinking about an elephant? Try not to. Elephant.

See, Innovation, change, inventions, breakthroughs are not achieved by people who were told to think outside the box. Never.

There are two ways people get ahead. The first group doesn’t even know there is a box. They are unaware of restrictions and just go ahead and change the status quo, which is the box. One example of this were the early engineers at Intel. I remember one telling the story about how in hindsight they understood why what they were trying to was impossible by scientific standards at the time. But they didn’t know that at the time, so they ‘just did it’. You could say they weren’t aware of a box until they looked back at it later.

The second group who innovates doesn’t look outside of the box, but deep into the structure of the box. They know more about the box than other people do. One example of that is a friend of mine who worked for an oil company. One day he realized that they were sending guys in cars to oil containers to check pressure and a bunch of other variables. He was toying at home with computers and figured he could replace those hourly manual checks with computerized live analysis. He could only make this observation because he stared at the box for a really long time, saw an opportunity and then acted on it. An outsider wouldn’t have connected the dots.

You either don’t know about the box at all, or you get intimately familiar with the box. Thinking outside of the box will restrict you too much.

Also, elephant.

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