Why ‘Think Outside the Box’ is bad advice.

Common advice dispersed to a techie is ‘Think Outside the Box’. The internet is filled with stories of successful people who allegedly owed their success to ‘thinking outside the box’. For a while, I believed in that philosophy. I soon realized that these stories are fantasies. Everybody loves a good underdog story and ‘thinking outside the box’ is yet another twist to the same old underdog fantasy story.

Ideally, we want to have a straight line from problem to solution. But, human brains do not work in a straight line.

Our brains have a tendency to wander around. Now without a box to confine your thoughts – creative minds can wander around without ever reaching any solution. To make matters worse, the wandering mind receives a constant barrage from social media about ‘shiny new objects’. This leads one to believe that the most straightforward solutions are not good enough – you must have ‘x’ for your underdog success story. In the media hyped world, there is no shortage of ‘x’. The world is full of marketing wizards who want to sell you ‘x’. 

Now consider thinking within the box. The box represents constraints – hard constraints that keep you focused. Your mind can and will wander around the box – but the box helps you eventually reach a solution. You may think that you reach this epiphany by scavenging the web, but your brain already has a solution for you. 

Most projects have three hard constraints – Time, Team and Technology. You must have all three T’s aligned to have successful project completion. If your project is time critical – you must have a skilled team and proven technology. If your team is unskilled, you need more time and proven technology. If you are developing new technology – you must have unlimited time and a skilled team. Boxing help you stay focused and deliver the project as opposed to endless wandering for a solution.

Yet time and again – we choose to think so called outside the box. We march on to search the next shiny object. We are too afraid of closing doors in fear of missing out (FOMO). This strategy eventually prevents us from selecting a path and reaching any destination.

There is a great quote by Archimedes – “Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world”. By now we all have noticed, – The world hasn’t moved an inch! Despite great aspirations to move the world, if you cannot build the fulcrum, dreaming about moving the world is never going to come to fruition. 

So, here is my quote for you – 

When everything is possible – Nothing is achieved. 

So, compel yourself to work inside the box. Stop chasing the shiny new object and close doors that don’t make sense to you.

This approach may not be sexy – but it sure would get you results!

If you enjoyed reading this, follow me at twitter @meera_datey. Twitter is place where I actively help others not select mint flavor ice cream.

P.S. Another advice dispersed to me was ‘if you aren’t embarrassed by what you wrote three years from now, you ain’t growing’ – I plan to be embarrassed by my writing in 3 years.