When I’m speaking to a group discussions sometimes turn down a familiar well-worn path. e.g., One person becomes vocal pushing the meme “We need to start thinking out of the box!” as to help bring new ideas, strategies, or tactics as to combat competitive challenges (and more) that now seem to change on a near daily basis.
As a form of unifying agreement will envelope the room it seems I shock many (which I’m known to do) when I rebut, “Doing just that may not only make your situations worse, but as you try to make plans based on “thinking outside the box” you may in fact help create the ideal situation for competitors to move right past you in ways not only you didn’t conceive, but in ways you thought previous impossible therefore creating by your own hands the opportunities for competitors to move in and put you out of business.”
This is when the room will fall silent. Then I’ll proceed to explain my reasoning and why it’s so important to get away from this idea of “thinking outside” and realize that in today’s world more and more “there is no box.”
When I use a few real life examples that are taking place currently the concept truly hits home. And I can see real shifts in perceptions and understanding along with a fresh release of vigor in tackling true creative innovation, as well as forging real competitive advantages that could either leapfrog them ahead of their competitors, or, better yet: create first to market advantages their competition might not even contemplate.
I thought I would transcribe (for they’re in Q & A form) just a few example of this taking place in hopes you might also apply this concept in your own endeavors. These are far from the only examples, but they seem to really grab both the attention as well as make my point clear; for they touch nearly every entrepreneur as well as anyone with the entrepreneurial mindset in one form or another.
Participant: What do you mean the “outside the box” (OTB) thinking could actually do more harm than good? Isn’t that a path more in line with creative solutions than others?
Me: As always here’s my famous response: Well yes, and no.
The issue here is if you think OTB chances are what you’ll proceed to do next without realizing it is only create a bigger box outside the one you’re currently in. Or, in other words what you’ll do is to yes, think outside or bigger than your competitors however, inevitably you’ll only draw another box as large as “you” perceive the new boundaries could or should be.
In the end you’ll limit your thinking based on a box only you conceive. And you will in-turn whether knowing or unknowingly stay within those very boundaries. Which de facto puts you right back to where you. For what if I were to come along and you notice, “My box is even bigger?”
We can do this at near infinitum. You then may argue that it’s a distinction without a difference. i.e., OTB or no box. For if it can go on at infinitum – it’s only semantics. To which I would express: that’s precisely the point. And this is where everyone misses the competitive edge.
When we use the OTB analogy many times what we fail to remember is: there is always a “box” to begin with. So what we do in-turn is take all the aspects from within that first construct – and try to change, delete, enhance, whatever. But, we continue as the point above illustrated “increase the box.”
We’re all working from the same stand point, using the same basic building blocks in the “box” in order to build a better “box.”
If I want to move not only past you, but create some form of first to market advantage and sprint away leaving “you” in the dust. What I need to do or say is “to heck with inside – outside.” And embrace “There is no box.” (TINB)
This leaves you (as well as possibly others) alone in the box thinking there’s less pressure or need to get outside, while at the same time allows me to focus on opportunities anywhere and everywhere because I no longer am tied one way or the other to “a box.” Let me give you a real life example of this taking place today. Uber™.
Uber didn’t “TOB.” They determined leave the box for others and let’s create our own model. Like them or not, agree with their alleged usurpation of taxi laws or not it doesn’t matter. For this example clearly shows while others in the field of transportation were all trying to gain competitive edges, market share, or whatever based on their models. It’s clear they only employed or used strategies or tactics based on those previous models (as in boxes.)
Companies acquired competitors, medallions, infrastructure such as cabs, hiring drivers, etc. This was their “box” per se. And it did nothing more than become a bigger and bigger box depending on who wanted to increase it. Uber came along and said – “there is no box.” They did nothing in accordance on what the industry itself perceived as “barriers to entry.” Or, working within any framework that was clear for all to see within “the box or boxes.”
They acted and performed as if they were never there, or, to paraphrase a movie line: Box? What Box? We don’t need no stinkin’ boxes!
Uber didn’t build a bigger, better, or even a box at all. It said – There is no box – and caught every other competitor in the transportation business flat-footed leaving them to playing catch up if they even can. The first mover advantage that went along with this is also noteworthy. How this all plays out going forward is still up for grabs with surmounting legal issues and hurdles they’re facing currently. But, this is a classic example of no box vs outside of one.
© 2015 Mark St.Cyr