Certain business phrases have entered our business vernacular and unfortunately stayed there. Like the notion of “work-life balance,” people who are “born leaders,” or the fallacy that “there are no new ideas.” Not only do they start to lose their meaning, many of them are just plain wrong most of the time.
Case in point: “Think outside the box.”
What is wrong with that one, you ask? Shouldn’t people open their minds to fresh ideas and new experiences — and not be confined to their own rigid ways? There is nothing wrong with thinking creatively, expanding your mind, taking chances. I think you should.
My problem with that expression is that it is not fair to the box, which has earned an undeserved reputation for small-mindedness and a stifling incapacity to allow growth. On the contrary, I find that the box is not such a bad place to be.
Before becoming the CEO of Aha! I spent many years working on corporate strategies and building great products. The more time I spent focusing my attention on key company and product decisions, the more experienced I became. Spending my time there actually led to the idea of creating a better tool for product managers to do their jobs. It also helped me understand the strategic framework that separates good teams and products from great ones.
Here is why I think everyone would benefit from spending more time working in their box:
People who are comfortable working in their box have confidence in knowing who they are and what they are meant to be doing. It gives you a framework to practice and perfect your art with concentrated focus. That repetition gives way to self-assurance and mastery that can only come when you are working in your zone.
Ever hear the expression “Jack of all trades…master of none?” Generalists may boast of a wide range of experiences, but they lack the deep knowledge necessary for excellence. It is better to become an expert on a few things than to know a little about many things. Working and thinking inside your box allows you to dive deeply into your chosen field.
Spend enough time working in the box, and you will hone your ability to make fast decisions. You will make quick decisions with confidence because you have seen the question before. Since you already have built clear decision frameworks for yourself based on previous patterns, you do not have to waste time agonizing over all the possibilities. You can respond immediately with assurance, and return your focus to the work at hand.
Most experts do what they do so well because of their experience and pattern recognition. Think of a veteran doctor diagnosing an illness or a conductor leading an orchestra. As a result of spending countless hours working in their narrow field, their senses are so well-trained that any anomalies immediately jump out and catch their attention.
The world’s experts know something that the rest of the world has not caught onto yet. They understand that there is a certain beauty in knowing what you know.
Sometimes that means focusing on one area and consciously eliminating unnecessary pursuits and distractions that only take you further away from where you want to be.
The next time you feel like you are being pulled in several different directions, get back inside your box and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised with the clarity you gain and progress you make towards being your best.
Have you ever tried to get “back in the box?”