Thinking Outside The Box – Fact or Myth?

Thinking Outside The Box – Fact or Myth?

Opinion Editorial by Joe Lombardo –Transformational Management Consultant


The challenges we face in managing our businesses, are increasing at a complex rate.

Changes in our landscape are evolving at a faster trend than ever before. Keeping up, to stay ahead is no trivial matter and this the focus of my thoughts on what is really important – Growth Mindset.

We hear that finding good talent is not easy. Is this due to a shortage of people fit-for-the-job or unreal hiring managers’ expectations?

Organisation have evolved their technology profiles in leaps & bounds in the last 5 years. And some have left their people behind in this process, which is now a challenge to align hearts and minds.

Hiring managers are setting the criteria of selection & recruitment for people who – “must be able to think outside the box” – interesting, seems logical but also curious!

What do we expect from “thinking outside the box?”

We may have all used this term knowingly or unknowingly to describe the people we want to surround ourselves with. And there is nothing wrong with this approach. However, what may be inconsistent is whether we really appreciate what this term actually means and how do we arrive at this expectation?

Compare this statement with that of the infamous question of Leaders – “are leaders born or made?”

The parallels are not dissimilar. Do we believe that “thinking outside the box” to be a characteristic one is born with? Just like leadership, training, development, guidance, mentoring develops people to learn leadership skills and behaviours, with tools to enable them to sustain such personal attributes.

When we explore more deeply these expectations, I find that hiring managers, want people who are different to what they have, do things differently to what is being done and in some miraculous way, show the hiring manager’s team how they should be doing things – in effect they are looking for change agents to join their organisation – and that is also fine!

But whilst it may seem reasonable in expectation, there lies the myth about searching for people with the label and expectations of being able to “think outside the box”!

Understanding “thinking outside the box”

Thinking outside the box, is not easy to define. Because it manifests elements of behaviours, skills, knowledge, business culture, and all of these combined, deliver an outcome – that are “solutions” that evolve from thinking outside the box- different from the traditional way organisations are doing things.

The process of thinking outside the box cannot be a magical process that individuals develop, keep-in store and hatch-it at the moment their leaders request it. It is far deeper than just a personal trait.

Consider for a moment of what “thinking outside the box” means as a process that can yield successful outcomes. It requires a deep understanding of the problem(s), it requires a knowledge of the business workings (processes, tools & resources) and it requires open, transparent and honest communications.

Without these basic ingredients a “thinking outside the box” expectation cannot be attained.

Moving the needle towards “thinking outside the box?’

Having harnessed the basic ingredients of process and methodology, there comes culture. And this will be the most important element to complete the experience. Culture is usually characterised by the way in which the organisations shapes its behaviour. Often it is this ingredient that is fundamentally missing and is the one which causes the most turbulence in relationships. Behaviour is at core of an organisation’s culture. It projects the levels of trust that people feel, that they can depend on and open up to freely “thinking outside of the box”.

Leaders need to create the environment that enables and encourages the critical behaviours required to develop trust and genuine transparency. It is not enough to just communicate them.

Every employee has a view and great ideas that can help organisations improve, grow and achieve great results. It is in the leaders’ power to unlock these constraints and listen to what is going on around them and within their own organisation. Seeking people from outside the organisation to implant the critical ingredients for “thinking outside the box”, is folly and unrealistic.  Leaders need to take a good look at their behaviour first and see what they have around them which can help them in their expectations.

What are the steps to achieve “thinking outside the box?”

Taking the right actiosn is not difficult. It is about looking in the right places for the answers. When leaders create the right environment, they unlock untold capabilities, that in turn open-up many opportunities. “Thinking outside the box” to find new solutions, is about being creative, innovative and with a freedom to make mistakes and learn from them both as individuas and as a collective organisation without incurring penalties and reprimands. Without these pre-conditions, no one will dare think outside of the box.

To help leaders achieve successful outcomes, we need to help them move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. This is what it will take to achieve a culture of thinking outside of the box.  It is only when leaders understand the behavioural aspects of their mindset, can one successfully move the needle to a culture of learning, innovation, trust, higher collaboration, co-ownership and an organisation that comfortably thrives on “thinking outside the box”.

Leaders start by being courageous and assess your mindset to open your awareness of where you can improve. Armed with such humbling awareness, will leaders re-engerise their motivations and evolve to make their leadership stronger and more successful.

Joe Lombardo
Associate Partner at Telos Partners Asia Pacific

Telos – {Greek-  purpose or realisation of potential} is focussed on helping leaders achieve their purpose and goals.

The need for change is a very likely and necessary step for business transformation and sustainability. Starting a journey of transformation within an organisation can be hugely daunting. Telos advises on structuring the model to facilitate and successfully implement transformational management programs. Our approach is to focus on making individuals successful, who in turn, will make their organisation successful.

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