Thinking in Boxes is not the Problem

A few weeks ago, I went to a presentation in which the speaker made a good case for using a term other than “elevator pitch.”

Now, I’m reading a book that tells us why we should be “thinking in new boxes” instead of “outside the box.” Why doesn’t the term “thinking outside the box” work? Well, because…

You can’t think or make decisions, let alone create new ideas (or recognize a good idea when you see one), without using a range of mental models to simplify things.

Thinking in New Boxes, Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny

The thing is, we need boxes or mental models. So it’s not thinking inside boxes that corrodes creative thinking abilities, it’s the boxes that we use. To generate new ideas, you need to create a new mindset. Start by recognizing your current boxes and then begin doubting and investigating them.

Here’s an example. Recently, I have seen people using old mental models in order to have financial stability in their lives. The people in question are freelancers who are not happy with the monetary ups and downs of the freelance life. Their solution is to give up freelancing for a “real job” because the “real job” will give them the stability they seek.

When I hear this, I tell them about people I know who had “stable” jobs one day and were unemployed the next. Some get my point, others don’t.

The ones who don’t are tied to their old mental model that says that working for a company equals stability. But these days, forces that don’t even seem to have a direct impact on your company can lead to layoffs. And the result can be much more devastating than doing the financial planning that freelancers need to do. That’s because freelancers know they have to stay on their toes, but employees sitting in a nice, cushy place with a job that they think is safe tend not to make provisions for when that job is gone. How secure is that?

These freelancers need to create a new mindset or box. Maybe one that recognizes that one has to create their own financial stability instead of depending on companies to do it for them. Maybe one that recognizes that:

…the world is demonstrably more volatile, with more uncertainty and more possibilities.

Thinking in New Boxes, Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny

And maybe if these freelancers are relying on companies to get the business that creates work for them, maybe their new box  should embrace taking total control and generating their own customer base. And when one starts thinking this way, the possibilities are endless.












The Role of Luck

I’ve been hanging around a lot of creative spirits lately and found myself in a discussion with one of them about the role luck plays in success.

Are some people successful just because they are lucky? Do people make their own luck? Or is it a combination of the two?

Here’s an example based on a true story.

A woman is flying home to get a visa to extend her stay in a foreign country. On the plane she starts talking to the man sitting next to her about her career aspirations in marketing. After listening to her, he tells her to send him her resume. A bit surprised, and suspicious, the woman asks who he is. He answers that he heads marketing for a well-known brand.

Now was she just lucky or did she make her own luck?

I would say that both are true. Of course she was lucky to be sitting next to the marketing head of any company. But if she hadn’t known her story and been willing to share it, he would never have requested that she send her resume (by the way, she got a job with the company).

I think Seth Godin says it well:

Good at the beginning
…is another word for lucky. Someone needs to get lucky, and it might even be you, but luck is not a strategy.

Becoming good in the long run, that’s the result of effort and tenacity and smart practice.

Not just the individual, the kid who doesn’t learn to walk the first day, or the violinist who doesn’t win a competition at the age of eight, but organizations and their projects as well.

The people who are good in the long run fail a lot, especially at the beginning. So, when you fail early, it might be worth realizing that this is part of the deal, the price you pay for being good in the long run.

Every rejection is a gift. A chance to learn and to do it better next time. An opportunity to figure out how to bounce, not break. Don’t waste them.

Sometimes, getting lucky at the start means that you fail to learn resilience and tenacity, and you lack the tools to get better. The long run is a lot longer than the start is.

Good at the beginning — Seth Godin

I think that those people who we think of as lucky (because they happened to be in the right place at the right time and have been successful for a long period of time) were able to make it due to effort and tenacity. The woman I just told you about had been looking for such an opportunity for a long time and had faced rejection. But after each rejection, she had worked to create a better story. So by the time she told the marketing head on the plane her story, it had morphed into a winner.

If you get lucky from the get go, that’s great. But remember luck is not a sustainable strategy. It’s more like being a one-hit wonder.

And if you think others are luckier than you, remember the above and the below.

If you’ve been rejected, learn from it. What haven’t you done that the “lucky” group did. Have you really thought out your idea?Is it appealing to your target audience? Do you have a good story to tell?

And keep you eyes open for opportunities. Share with others. If the woman had been quiet during the entire flight, she still would not have gotten the job.

It may take a little longer for you to reach your goal than the “lucky” but if you learn from your experiences, you’ll still be there way after the “lucky” candle has melted.

Could Walking Improve Your Next Brainstorming Session?

photo-4I’ve always known that when I’m working, and stuck, and then get up and start walking, I end up coming back to my desk full of ideas. In fact, because I’ve noticed this to be true, I walk with a notebook and pen, so that I can capture my thoughts.

But in the past, I’ve had a hard time convincing some managers people that I’m not goofing off when I take my walks. These managers people seem to place more value on those who sit at there desk all day looking at a certain social media site or playing solitude.

Hopefully, as of a few days ago, this perception of my walks, and those of people like me, has changed because a scientific study has shown that walking does indeed increase creativity.

The Scientific Proof

For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate,” Dr. Oppezzo writes in her study, which was published this month (April, 2014) in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. (Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking)

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

But what’s even better about this study is that is shows that I might not have to capture my thoughts right then and there on paper. You see I’ve always thought that when my ideas came up, they were somewhat like a dream. You have to capture there and then or else when you wake up, or return to your desk, things might become fuzzy and you may totally forget the ideas you generated. But the study has shown that the effects of walking linger even when you return to you desk.

But the practical import of that finding would seem to be negligible, if creativity were to increase only while someone was walking. Most of us cannot conduct brainstorming sessions on treadmills. So Dr. Oppezzo next tested whether the effects lingered after a walk had ended. She had another group of students sit for two consecutive sessions of test-taking and subsequently walk for about eight minutes while tossing out ideas for object re-use, then sit and repeat the test.

Again, walking markedly improved people’s ability to generate creative ideas, even when they sat down after the walk. In that case, the volunteers who had walked produced significantly more and subjectively better ideas than in their pre-exercise testing period.

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

So walking not only helps you generate ideas while you’re walking, it also helps you generate creative ideas when you return to your desk.

Implications for Business

Managers, let your people walk. Create a supportive atmosphere for those who get up from their desk and walk throughout the day when they are trying to generate ideas. These people are not goofing off. Walking allows them to be much more productive then they would be sitting at their desk.

Brainstorming facilitators, let your participants walk. What do people usually do during brainstorming sessions? They sit. Maybe, just maybe, they should walk. Okay, it may be hard to hold a brainstorming session while people are walking in a park, but what about having them take a walk before the session. Or even walk around the room while they are shouting out their ideas. Would walking around the room work? According to the study, it would.

Finally, to examine another real-world implication of walking and creativity, Dr. Oppezzo moved portions of the experiment outdoors. “Most people would probably guess that walking outside should be much better for creativity” than pacing inside a drab office. But surprisingly, her study undermined that assumption. When volunteers strolled Stanford’s pleasant, leafy campus for about eight minutes, they generated more creative ideas than when they sat either inside or outside for the same length of time. But they were not noticeably more creative as a result of their plein-air walk than when they subsequently walked on an indoor treadmill, facing a blank wall.

“It really seems that it’s the walking that matters,” in terms of spurring creativity, Dr. Oppezzo said, and not the setting.

Want to Be More Creative? Take a Walk by Gretchen Reynolds,

This is something that I’ve never thought of doing before, but I’m definitely going to try. Why don’t you give it a try, too. Let me know how it goes.