Thinking Outside the Box, on your own, is almost impossible.

The admonition to “Think Outside the Box” presupposes two distinct things: First that we are capable of working beyond the everyday parameters of the activity we call “Thinking” and second that there is a box of sorts that constraints us in a usual context.

Before you begin to ask “how?’ and “why?’ consider how odd it is that should we be able to actually do it, why don’t we, like … all the time?

What’s Inside the Box?

Before we start thinking about breaking out consider that the ‘box’ in question is our own head. I know the term is used metaphorically to help us imagine our constrained surroundings and prompt us to overcome them, but it also refers to something more specific and here it helps us to understand the mechanism of our function.

Psychological egoism suggests that our entire inner construct. The unique ‘us’ inside our heads is made up of drives that seek to help us optimize our existence. Left to their own devices these drives wind tighter and tighter until our entire inner world resembles that of a very complex amoeba governed by an aversion to pain and an attraction to pleasure.

What makes us complicated then? The ‘wealth’ inside the box goes from being black and white to a myriad shades of grey when the brain is touched by an outside influence. A piece of music, a book, a ray of sunshine hitting the surface of a lake, the call of a bird flying high in the sky, the look of a girl walking across the street, are examples of transformative moments. Data seeps into our brains and allows the voice that’s ‘us’ to stop its monologue and momentarily listen to other things.

This changes everything. Fresh data broadens the horizon and allows us to re-imagine what we are involved in from a solitary game involving us to an epic involving humanity. James P. Carse calls this the transition from a finite game which can only end with our death to an infinite one where every imaginable action we undertake, including that of altruism, has a greater meaning than what the moment provides it with.

In the vernacular, this realization allows us to go from being a few sentences hastily strung together into a sentence to co-creators helping to write a chapter in a narrative that is infinitely long and will survive us.

Free Your Mind

It takes a mental leap of faith to try and free your mind.

Neo had to struggle in The Matrix because, just like us (to borrow some of the dialogue) “sooner or later [we’re] going to realize that there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”

Transformative moments require two things:

A.    External data
B.    Internal Analysis

A mind trapped with the former starves in the midst of plenty, unable to become anything other than confused. A mind blessed only with the latter, sinks into the insanity of constant self-doubt, a perennial “dark night of the soul”.
So, provided the two come together ‘inside the box’ how do we achieve the breakthrough and think outside? That’s incredibly hard to do thanks to our tendency to observe the world in a way that fits in with our views and discard everything else as inconsequential.

Observation bias is a paradox becomes it becomes the mechanism through which we can fool ourselves that we have gone outside the box and it is the same as what’s inside. In a sense it’s a little like being trapped inside our own delusion where our attempt to escape only validates the thoughts we had before we tried to break free.

Prior to social media there was no easy way to achieve breakthroughs. Historically there would be moments where culture and developments (dare I say even, cultural developments?) would produce an effect like that observed 300 years ago in London Coffee Houses where the touching of spirits and thoughts created an empire of the mind that powered the Victorians and brought about the Industrial Revolution.  

On a longer lasting note there has always been the path available to the Zen scholar, challenging his mind to break free of the delusional prison of his thoughts and discover the connective reality of the outside world through constant meditation on Zen Koans.

And Now There’s Social Media

In the days of the digital revolution the talking cure provides us with the means to freely connect with the world outside our heads at will, whenever we want and experience realities, thoughts and ideas that are different to the ones we are familiar with.  

Despite the apparent ease with which this can happen there are still challenges to overcome. Personal biases act as filters constantly threatening to create a personal bubble inside which we see the world as we expect it to be, essentially using technology to only create a bigger box for ourselves.

“Thinking outside the box” is an activity that is usually undertaken as part of a group, for a reason. Throwing multiple viewpoints in the mix makes it more likely that we can shatter the illusion and actually get outside our heads. Social media is no different.

There are some steps that help:

  • Consider every view (even those you do not agree with)
  • Seek to understand the basis of every argument (do not just react to them based upon your own opinion)
  • Accept that there is a truth in every voice (seeking it frequently sets you free from your own biases)
  • Seek commonalities that help you work together with others (do not just seek people who are just like you)
  • Challenge your own opinions (and respect the challenges that come your way)
  • Change your mind (not just when you are wrong but also when you are right – being right should be empowering leading you to greater mental vistas and should not be the reason you further buttress your mental fortress)
  • Be brave (sometimes what you discover requires taking conceptual risks, mental leaps of faith)
  • Be generous (share what you discover, ideas hoarded lose their value)

Without meaning to we all live inside a box. Our cranium is the first physical reality that contains us and we soon recreate it inside our thoughts. Our plugged in existence into the social media web can become either a force for liberation of our thoughts or just another means of recreating the biases that have shaped us.

The closing message of The Matrix contains a powerful social media message that hints not only at tolerance and co-existence but also co-creation and open-minded development.


What You Missed

Technology and Processes: Understand Why We Are Locked into Escalating Responses
The Politics of Value
What Does it Mean to Be Authentic?
Honesty and Disclosure
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America’s Biggest Loser (and seven business lessons you should know)
The World is Interconnected