Is Thinking Outside the Box Overrated?

Nancy Anderson
Posted by

Employers everywhere have been telling their teams to "think outside the box" for decades, but is this really sound advice? While the idea of pushing aside what already exists to create and innovate something truly new is enticing, the greatest ideas and innovation for your company may actually come from inside the box, suggests Deutser CEO and author Chad Deutser.

The Problem with Thinking Outside the Box

According to Deutser, innovating outside the box means abandoning your brand. Think of "the box" as the core reality of your organization. If you get too caught up encouraging employees to think outside of that reality, they are likely to come up with ideas that are too disconnected from your business and brand. These ideas can be tough to implement simply because they are not grounded in the business' current reality. On top of that, decisions based on "outside the box" thinking are likely to meet resistance from team members, customers, and even business processes themselves due to being too detached from the core organizational reality.

Why In-the-Box Thinking Should Prevail

Whether you're aiming for structural shifts or changes to office culture, stay inside the box to make the most effective changes. Outside-the-box changes involve trying to achieve big goals without any regard for your organization's current reality. On the other hand, in-the-box changes are incremental steps founded on where your company is now. These micro changes are easier for team members to digest than a massive cultural or structural shift. Keep in mind that each step is not a bottom-up or top-down change, but a company-wide approach that ensures every member of the workforce is on the same page. In essence, instead of thinking outside the box, this approach allows the box itself to slowly evolve.

Creating Your Box

Ambiguity can make any kind of organizational change difficult. Luckily, defining your organizational box can help create a central focus or roadmap to guide your workforce. With a defined "box," workers and managers have a grounding point to refer to in times of transition or chaos. Take some time to define the culture, behavioral norms, and organizational values that make up your company's current reality. You may also want to have a discussion with team members about what it means to innovate inside the box and why your company is choosing that approach. Create a statement outlining your company culture that employees can refer to when in doubt, and adopt a habit of open communication so every worker knows what's expected of them.

Employees and managers alike have been told to think outside the box time and again, but staying in the box might be the key to more effective organizational changes. Do you believe thinking inside the box trumps thinking outside the box? Share your opinion in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of yodiyim at


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch