The person who coined the phrase thinking outside the box deserves a linguistic medal of honor.

The next person who uses it with me will get a punch in the nose. OK, I’m small and nonviolent. A dirty look.

A dirty, disgusted look because I am so weary of hearing it. Especially from people who haven’t had an original idea in years, which is why they are so fond of overused catch phrases.

What wiki says

According to my friend Wikipedia (I know, too much time online), thinking outside the box simply means “thinking differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel, creative and smart thinking.”

The term is especially loved, wiki notes, by management consultants and executive coaches.

Although many of these people are brilliant, some poseurs try to sneak in by speaking the language. You can spot them easily because they all start their presentations by talking about Starbucks or Facebook. write outside the box or slinky thinking

Before out of the box thinking, the management consultants talked about paradigm shifts, which resulted from people thinking outside the box, only they didn’t have a catch phrase for it then.

Thinking outside the box works because it’s a simple metaphor, with a twist, eschewing the confines of inside for the freedom of outside.

Shiny and new

But can’t we do better or at least shinier and newer?

To be original, we can’t use a metaphor that relates to a box. Unless we add depth to the box, which is usually portrayed on those Power Point slides as a two-dimensional square.

Let’s turn it into a cube and give 3-D glasses to everyone at the presentation. We could probably pick them up cheap, as soon as the 3-D movie trend dies.

Think outside the cube. No, too similar. Cube the square. Square the cube. No, that’s not it.

Circular logic

Another shape, perhaps. What about a circle? But how do you go beyond the circle? Look at the auras. Too new agey for those management consultants, though maybe not for some of the executive coaches.

Or maybe we need to rise above the circle to appreciate how it connects. Spring out of the circle. Rise above the circle. Encircle the circle.

Could be something profound like the circle of life. Or we could get stuck going around in circles, the dog chasing its tail.

A spiral could take us places, but people usually refer to downwad spirals. Slinkies go down the stairs, but never up, though slinky thinking would be be quite memorable if that gravity problem could be solved.

Let’s try triangles, another popular shape. No, we see them too much in pie charts and slice-of-the-pie metaphors.

We could add another corner, but then we’re back to the box.

Beyond space and time

Or maybe we should leave space and hop over to the other dimension, time.

Think beyond the moment. No. I’m trying to do less of that. Besides, you can’t see time so it doesn’t inspire metaphors.

Perhaps what we need to change is the verb. Those folks who had so much success with The Secret talked about visualizing, which combines imagining with seeing.

Visualize a new box? Too close.


Accelerate the thought particles. Too scary.

Spark some new synapses. Too sciencey.

Kidnap the status quo. No, the management consultants would ponder the ROR, or return on ransom.

Think Outside the Box 2.0. Too last year.

Locked in our consciousness box

Maybe the problem is not with the phrase, tired as it is, but with the difficulty of actually thinking outside the box. People like to say they do, but how many really succeed?

The truth is we are all stuck in the box of our own consciousness. That’s why we can’t know for certain whether there’s an after life or black holes. It’s all faith or theory.

If we want to take a fresh look, we have to forget about the impossible, thinking outside the box, and embrace the possible by enlarging the box. No, I can’t take credit for that term. I came across it this morning in Copyblogger. Sonia Siimone quoted it from The Art of Possibiliity by Bernard and Roz Zander.

Although I like the concept, enlarging is not a catchy term.

I’m changing it to maxing the box.

It’s similar to that seventies’ expression, expandiing your consciousness, but without the LSD.

Speaking of hallucinations,or taking a page from those Secret people, I can just see it: management consultants, executive coaches and wikipedia talking about maxing the box. Maxing the box on everyone’s Power Point slides.

You can tell them you read it here first. Or you can come up with a better expression. Just, don’t try to think out of the box, please.

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Writing outside the box and around in circles

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