Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle. -- Napoleon Hill
If you are like me, you have heard this statement a thousand times over. And like me, you may have struggled with it. The statement has always been presented with good motives coupled with a strong dose of motivation. The message is a tried and true standby cliché that managers and leaders readily deploy to fire up the troops. You might even be one of the well-meaning persons who have used it. The statement is simply this: “Think outside the box.”
The idea has always made sense to me from a theoretical standpoint. After all, what’s wrong with thinking differently and approaching a problem in a new way? What could possibly be wrong with a fresh approac, especially if you happen to be stagnant in your thinking? Change is good. My concern centered around the disconnect that exists at times between good theory and good practice. I didn’t need the theory so much as I needed the “how-to.”
Fortunately, my “thinking outside the box” frustrations ended with a simple but profound discovery. In the book, "You, Inc.," Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith share a chapter called “Thinking Outside Your Box.” I found it quite liberating.
The thesis of the chapter is that you do not need to think outside your box. “Your box -- your way of thinking, working and living -- has worked for you," they wrote. "It’s the box in which you were born, a product of your DNA with which you were coded. You can change your box about as easily as you can alter the shape of your head.” Their solution? “To become more creative -- always a good idea -- don’t try to think outside your box. Instead, grow it. Bring new things in.”
While well-intentioned people may suggest thinking outside the box as a technique to improve performance and production, I think the Beckwith’s approach might actually be more beneficial. Until you are willing to grow as a leader, and thus “grow your box,” no amount of thinking outside of it will help. In order to think inside your box you need to grow it. If you grow your box, you will be more productive as a leader. So how do you do it? Here are four tips to get you started.
Grow your reading list. “You are the same today as you will be five years from now, except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read,” writer and speaker Charlie “Tremendous" Jones said. That is powerful and practical advice. It’s as you commit to a personal and systematic reading plan that you will begin to grow as a leader. There are no shortcuts. Simply put, leaders are readers. If you want to learn how to think inside your box, it’s simple: read.
Grow your interests. The older I get the more I get this truth that life is short. Often our box is too small simply because we’ve lost our sense of adventure. Have you grown too comfortable in your box? The Beckwith’s suggest that if you read "Vanity Fair," read "In-Fisherman." If you read "People," scan "The New Yorker." If you attend the theater, catch a NASCAR race. It’s when you welcome new things into your box that it begins to grow, and it releases new passion to think creatively. In other words, tinker with your box.
Grow your relationships. It’s when you grow your friendships that your box also begins to grow. The perspective that you may lack can often be found with a friend. Friendships expand your box and broaden your perspective, so bring in more people. Build it on purpose and with diversity. You do not need more people in your box who look like you and think like you. It’s when you grow your friendships that the words of Solomon ring true, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
Grow your giving list. At first glance it might sound like a contradiction in terms. But I believe the secret to growing inside your box is when you discover the joy of helping others grow theirs. Growing inside your box begins when you get the focus off yourself and discover the joy of giving. When a leader is generous with his time, talents, and resources, he will soon discover what true leadership is all about.
It’s time to grow your box.
Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker and columnist. He is the author of two leadership books and is available to speak for your organization. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com for more information.