Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Thinking inside the box

It seems that every meeting I go to these days, somebody points out that we need to think outside the box.

The expression is a bit well-worn, but I do like it. It can be a very helpful directive. Think outside the box - think outside the usual rules - think outside the habitual thinking places. Break free of assumptions.

However, what sometimes annoys me about this expression is that we often forget that we can only think outside of the box if there is an actual box to think outside of.

It helps if we first have a very carefully constructed box, which we have examined closely. In my experience, it helps if we have done a thorough job of thinking inside the box before we we make the jump to thinking outside the box.

I first started learning this lesson from my high school English teacher, Mr Murray. He had chided me for turning in a structureless, sloppy essay in which I had deliberately ignored some rules he asked us to follow in producing our work. I thought I was being "creative". I explained that great writers routinely broke the rules. That was the mark of their genius.

He explained to me that the great writers first master the rules. And only once they have mastered the rules, then they break them.

Then he gave me an "F".

Well deserved.

Just a note on Mr. Murray. He had a prosthetic leg. A prosthetic eye. And, so it was said, a plate in his head. The kids used to call him jigsaw Murray. He had been injured in WWII. I think he was in the Italian Campaign, though I'm not sure how I would know that. He was also a great teacher, although I never told him that. I haven't forgotten him.

Wherever you are Mr. Murray. I thank you for this lesson. It still took a few decades to internalize it, but at least it was not wasted on me.

Think inside the box. Spread the word.

P.S.: I am at home with my daughter today. She is still sick, but seems to be feeling a lot better. We'll see how things go tonight.


Blogger Phil Plasma said...

This is a lot like stopping to smell the flowers, or trying to get a full understanding of something before moving on to the next thing. I've always preferred to think both within and without of a dodecahedron.

4:54 PM  
Blogger wicwit said...

I think when people say that, they assume everyone knows the box, what's in it, what it's made of, how it works, etc, basically they already have a full understanding of the normal mundane blah that they want to get away from. It is a creative way of asking someone to be creative, except it's overused and no longer a creative way to ask someone to be creative.

We need to think outside of the box to come up with a new way to express thinking outside of the box.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

That's an excellent observation. He sounds like a great teacher. Apparently some of Picasso's early work was actually good before he went about butchering canvasses.

9:06 AM  

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