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Playing Inside the Idea Box

At the start of my workshops, I always ask the room to define the word ‘creativity’. Hands go up. “Thinking outside of the box!” someone always says. “How big is the box,” I ask, “and what defines what’s in or out of it”? This stops them in their tracks.

Out of the box thinking is usually considered ‘something different or out of the norm’. But everyone’s norm is different. One person’s box may be another’s playground. It’s all about context and perspective – both key to harnessing and unleashing creativity.

Imagine you work at Zappos, known for its freethinking and collective genius. You get asked to come up with even better customer service practices. Is your box big or small?And should you explore within it or outside of it? Well, you’d think that because of the culture and freedoms, it’d be a pretty huge box if there were one at all. And opening the box door to play outside of it would certainly be OK. But wait – you’ve been asked to discover new customer service practices so wouldn’t it make sense to stay INSIDE that box? Otherwise how will you know whether it’s a customer service solution? The box now becomes your challenge area. The secret is to try bringing all kinds of new thinking toys INTO the box with you!

How about connection toys? Combining restaurants and customer service? Flight school and customer service? Your grandmother and customer service? By bringing thought catalysts like this into the box, you can explore and play while never losing sight of your purpose. If I’m asked to solve a problem, I’ll take that over a complete blue sky any day. I imagine sitting in the box, holding my creative flashlight in one hand and connecter thinking toys in the other and fitting and refitting them together like so many Lego pieces to discover new solutions. Customer service and grandmother? How about a special phone line for over 70s who find online returns challenging? Flight school? How about you always have your ‘flight instructor’ harnessed to you? Whenever you make a purchase, it’s connected to a particular customer service rep who is harnessed to you until the end. Any problems or issues, you call him or her directly and they already know you by name. Or how about being able to convert Zappos loyalty points into flight miles with your favorite airline? Restaurant, grandmother, and customer service? No prob. How about long standing customers get ‘tipped’ by Zappos staff for THEIR good shopping or return practices and can use those tips to buy more product?

By diligently playing in the box, perceived constraints become creative catalysts.

So next time someone mentions that box they want you to think outside of, just smile, pick up your flashlight and Lego and go hang out inside for a while. With a little perspective shifting, connecting and healthy constraint, you’ll be amazed at what you might find.


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