Innovation and Thinking Beyond the Box

Innovation and Thinking Beyond the Box

By Megan Totka

Whether as small business owners, employers or just workers in general, we’d like to believe that we surround ourselves with intelligent, creative people. Likewise, we’d also like to believe that we embody a similar sort of intelligence and creativity in the way that we carry ourselves and our companies. We wish to avoid the ordinary in order to stand out from the crowd and represent something beyond the norm.

Unfortunately, our attempts to “think outside the box” often do the opposite, boxing us in and holding us back from true creativity and innovation. How so?

Think about it. No innovation ever took place without someone who was willing to act out or challenge the norm. Nobody wants a team that thinks in a uniform way, even if that way involves “creativity” or “thinking outside the box.” Through our company’s attempts to think “outside” of the box, we’re not truly innovating; we’re simply creating the illusion of innovation.  This is the paradox of the proverbial “box.”

For this reason, perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about thinking “inside” and “outside” of the box, but rather examine how we perceive “the box” itself.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin takes a rather unconventional approach to problem-solving as he challenges today’s business owners to redefine the concept of “the box” altogether. Rather than thinking “inside” or “outside,” he encourages entrepreneurs to instead “poke the box.”

 What exactly does that mean? In Godin’s own words:

“Conformity used to be crucial—fitting in, not standing out. Compliance used to be the heart of every successful organization, every successful career. The reason? We all worked for the system, in the factory, doing what we were told. Now, though, compliance is no longer a competitive advantage. . . We need to be nudged away from conformity and toward ingenuity, toward answering unknown questions for ourselves. Even if we fail, as I have done many times in my life, we learn what not to do by experience and doing the new.”

There is a mentality among innovators that say this; one doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel in order to achieve innovation. With this mindset, we can work to make good ideas better instead of trying to force innovation.

  • Apple – Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer; however, he did invent a company culture built around pristine quality and mastermind marketing, specifically focused on exclusivity. From personal computers to MP3 players to tablets, Jobs put Apple’s sleek style and painstaking detail into every piece of machinery his company put out. Such attention to detail drove Apple to become the multi-billion dollar giant it is today.
  • Disney – Not unlike Jobs and the personal computer, Walt Disney wasn’t the world’s first cartoonist. He was, however, a true innovator in terms of how artists and studios viewed animation as an artistic medium. From 1940’s Fantasia to Disneyland and eventually a media empire, Disney’s tendency to push the artistic envelope, infused with a company culture that’s infamously positive, blended a perfect storm for a media empire that remains untouched in terms of size, scope, and revenue.
  • Google – By no means the first search engine, the creators of Google seized the day and sought to make the search engine into something more. It’s clear to see that their efforts paid off, both figuratively and literally, with creators such as Chrome (reportedly the most popular web browser in the world) and AdSense driving the modern landscape of the web.

While such big brands may seem worlds away from your small business, their principles remain sound. That is, almost any good idea can be made better. Sometimes it’s not about “thinking outside the box,” but rather the way we perceive the box altogether. Ask yourself; is your company breaking down such walls and welcoming innovation?

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at

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