Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The good, the bad and the ugly of ‘thinking outside the box’

Fish weather vane - thinking differently
There are many tired, overused words and phrases in the business world today. Rich words like innovation and creativity are losing their meaning because they’re applied to everything from the latest slick Apple product to banking practice. But no phrase is more overused than thinking outside the box. But why is this phrase ubiquitous? What does it convey that seems so meaningful that everyone wants to use it and to be seen to be doing it?

Let’s start with the good news first. The phrase began with good intentions. It is based on the Nine Dots Puzzle in which you have to connect nine dots using four straight lines AND without lifting your pencil. The solution to the puzzle involves drawing outside the rows and columns of the dots; that is, to think outside the box. Although the puzzle was from 1914, management consultants of the 1960s and 70s used it extensively in their work. For them, it was meant to signify new approaches and fresh solutions. And in a way it still means that, though it seems to be so universally used that it’s almost meaningless.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Creativity in the workplace

Creativity is a big buzzword in business these days - everyone's talking about it, but it seems to mean a variety of things - innovation, adaptability, flexibility. For some it conjures images of companies with trampolines in their board room and a quote from the ridiculously young CEO, saying, “jumping on the trampoline helps to get the creative juices going and keeps meetings short!” For others it refers only to creative professionals and the creative industry. Of course, creativity at work can be those things but it is also much more than that. It is about the everyday ways in which problems are solved, thinking differently occurs, and real people do their jobs. 

We sat down recently with Richard Lightbody, who is the Communications Coordinator at Maersk Training in Svendborg.