By my calculation I’ve used the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ 963 times. I’m not alone. Thinking outside the box has become synonymous with the creativity required to solve society’s tough challenges.
For the number of us thinking outside the box you’d think there would be nobody left inside.
And that would be a shame.
Because our messes, vulnerabilities and challenges are inside the box. So are our creative solutions. Necessity is also in the box and necessity is the mother of invention.
Being boxed in, trapped or cornered focuses the mind and yields more creativity than thinking outside the box ever did. Or will. The optimal condition for a breakthrough is having no choice but to think outside your comfort zone, inside the box. Read, for example Donna Thomson’s The Four Walls of My Freedom, a riveting reflection on the ingenuity and love required to enable her son Nick to become a contributing member of society.
Speaking of walls, when he first became a monk Thomas Merton, author of The Seven Storey Mountain described his small cell as representing the four walls of his new freedom.
Need more convincing?
Here’s Einstein: “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”
And Annie Dillard: “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.”
Boundaries are discipline – discipline is creativity.
Don’t take my word take Charlie Parker’s: “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
Or Orson Welles: “The greatest enemy of art is the absence of limitation.”
Proficiency starts by falling in love with your challenge inside the box. Staying committed. Embracing its corners and boundaries. Then like all artists and innovators you will find the gates to your creativity and you can begin to wail.
- Check out my bookinar series based on the patterns in my book Impact. My next conversation is on January 26th (noon EST) with the incomparable Jason Mogus, principal strategist at Communicopia. We are discussing the pattern, Create a Container for your Content. Register for free here.
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But losing my freedom in Somalia taught me a lot about how to get it back. Every day, I make the choice to move forward and to remember that true power is derived from kindness. In the end, Ali Omar Ader’s fate has nothing to do with mine.
The world held promise
For a slave to liberty
Freely I slaved away for something better
And I was bought and sold
And all I ever wanted
Was to come in from the cold.