One of the traditional and overused phrases in business is to “think out of the box.” It is a request by some organizational leaders to rally their team to think differently and creatively. The box is a figurative concept, which represents traditional, one-dimensional thinking. To think outside the box is challenging for many employees as they have spent their work lives comfortably inside a figurative box. It’s what they know and how they have been rewarded.
Interestingly enough, the box starts getting constructed in our childhood. Our imaginations become impeded by reality and the constant urgings by parents, guardians and teachers to grow up and conform to societal norms. In essence, creativity is replaced with getting graded on how well we color inside the lines.
Before we know it, we are driving a car, graduating and working. In our jobs, we “learn the ropes,” try to act professional, get paid, reviewed and sometimes promoted. This experience is repeated several times throughout our careers as we move to new jobs. In addition, our careers are filled with rules and guidelines, office politics and bureaucracy, which further stifle risk taking and innovation.
Believe it or not, there are employers who actually like having their employees “boxed in.” It’s pretty scary that this thinking still exists. In these companies, the following statements are more the norm versus the exception:
“You’re lucky to even have a job.”
“It’s work; it’s not supposed to be fun.”
“I don’t pay you to think.”
“Your job is what I say it is.”
“This is the way we’ve always
Then there are other companies that recognize that their staffs’ thinking and approach to problem solving has become stagnant and ineffective. These organizations sometimes make desperate attempts to address the situation and retain creativity consultants to shake up their employees. Unfortunately, this may be money poorly spent as symptoms are treated rather than the real problem of a workplace environment that simply does not support innovative thinking. Long after the creativity consultants leave, the boxes of traditional thinking remain.
You do not need to hire high-priced consultants to help with creative thinking at your workplace. If you are looking to break down the boxes and workplace barriers to innovative thinking, consider some of the following:
Let employees “scrape their knees” once in a while. Allow your team to take risks and try new ideas. Reward employees for trying something different. Often rewarding the process versus the outcome is more meaningful and sends a clear message that trial and error and “out of the box” thinking is desired and supported.
Eliminate corporate barriers. Archaic employment policies, demeaning rules and layers of bureaucracy simply make the box stronger, to the point where people are afraid to venture outside its walls. Get rid of policies and practices that hold you, your employees and your organization back from achieving great success.
Add color. Take a trip to the local paint store and pick out some vibrant colors for your office. Better yet, ask your employees about your office decor, wall colors and carpeting. I bet you receive some great feedback on how to create a worker-friendly and stimulating environment.
Dress for productivity. Consider incorporating a business casual dress code at least once a week if not daily. Remember, most kids hate to dress up, and adults are just grown up kids.
Talk to me! Talk with your team to find out their ideas on how you and your leadership team can support innovation, trial and error and creative thought. They will appreciate being asked, and you will get some great advice.
No more five-day workweek. If you ask your top-performing employees, they may tell you that a traditional five-day workweek with eight-hour days is an archaic concept. Today’s worker appreciates flexible schedules/hours and a focus on productivity and results rather than watching the clock.
There are certainly many more ideas on how to develop and maintain a workplace that supports creative thinking. Some may consider your ideas crazy. Most likely, those ideas are the ones that might not only support your continued business success but may change an industry.
If you still have a box, rip it apart, toss it aside and expand your mind. Be open to new possibilities and set a course that is uncharted. It’s a heck of a lot more fun than spending the rest of your career and life walled off from life’s
Pat Perry is an author of two business books (patperrybook.com), motivational speaker and a member of the NEO Business Hall of Fame.