Thinking Outside the Box


There is a famous saying that “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is also known as the law of the instrument. It means that we have a tendency to be too dependent on a familiar tool.
For most people, it is difficult to think outside the box because we are walled in by habit. Even the most brilliant people are often trapped by this faulty thinking. This has also been the cause of many of the most heartbreaking business failures.
Examples of this problem abound. In almost every company there are disputes between the different departments. Marketing will have a different prescription for what ails their company as compared to the ideas from the engineers in production. The president or CEO is supposed to be impartial, but even in this case, there usually is a bias to the department from where he or she came from.
To begin with, we must realize that our mind has its reasons for limiting our vision. It simply is impossible not to have parameters.
There are too many variables in the real world to consider everything even if we have the inclination. Doing so will lead to paralysis by analysis which is worse than having narrow options. There simply is not enough time to consider everything.
How to solve this dilemma? There are, in fact, many ways of expanding your mind:
Be a wide reader. This is one of the most cost effective ways of developing your ability to think outside the box. Reading material from other fields or functions will help you to understand the thinking of other people and generate fresh ideas. However, this technique will work only if you have been doing this consistently for some time.
Converse with people with other departments. If you are not fond of reading books then this is another way to broaden your mind. This will not only bring new perspectives but also possibly pave the way for better relations with your department. But, again this method will only work in the long term.
Take risks. The CEO of Nokia shocked the business world when the company abandoned their own operating system and choosing Microsoft’s Windows for their smart phones. He believes that his company will die a slow but sure death if he will not take the risk. In differing degrees, this applies to every company. Taking risks to move forward may be costly, but fearing change will lead to certain death in the future.
Be the devil’s advocate. Since the force of habit is very strong it may take a more extreme mental effort to challenge your established thoughts. Playing the adversary role to your own ideas may serve to overcome your old beliefs.
Conduct an informal poll without revealing your opinion. Sometimes you think you know what other people want. Verify your presumptions by asking around while taking care not to ask leading questions. The response may surprise you! This simple exercise will enrich your options and also build a better consensus. The difference between conducting an informal poll and conversing with people in other departments is that the poll is more suitable for immediate concerns.
Travel abroad. Probably the most enjoyable and effective way to expand your thinking is to travel abroad. Being exposed to foreign cultures will introduce new ideas by sheer osmosis. Seeing totally alien ways of doing things that work well will provide inspiration and proof to break out of the old mold. The only disadvantage to travel is that it is expensive!
We are always more comfortable with the things that we know. This is so ingrained that we often go by the saying that better the devil we know than the one we don’t. The dangers of the unknown are amplified by our fears. We must not wait until a crisis erupts and we are forced to think outside the box. Now is the best time to explore all possibilities.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.