Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The ThinkBox of Innovation

If leaders are truly to think outside the box, then they must be open as well to rethinking this very notion itself: that is, to think outside the box about thinking outside the box. This is one essence of the algorithm for innovation that I'm working on, and the book I'm writing: Meta-Innovation and the ThinkBox.

(image credit)
Its Central Precepts
  • Innovation is not a product, service or process per se. It is a mindset. The practical approach and the actual focus follow from this mindset. An able, willing and ready mind can then be trained on anything that requires innovating. 
  • Innovation is not an end in itself, rather just one means to an end. Our leadership efforts are purpose-driven and goal-directed, and to the extent that we surmise innovation as necessary vis-à-vis such purpose and goal, then innovation has a crucial role to play. 
  • Conventionality may be a fine complement to innovation, and depending on the situation and the purpose, it may have just as crucial of a role to play as well.  In other words, let's not dismiss the box categorically, and let's not disminish the potential value of thinking inside the box.  
  • Even innovative products, services or processes get stale. So, just as Capital One aspired to do, it is important to innovate on innovation. Rethink innovation. Be creative about the very mindset and process of creativity. It is what I call meta­-innovation.
  • The ThinkBox is a meta-innovation. Again, it aims to think outside the box about thinking outside the box. In so doing, it revisits the totality of what thinking vis-à-vis the box is all about. It also leverages social media, and takes advantage of creativity in the arts and technology. 

The ThinkBox

As a key concept in my algorithm for innovation, The ThinkBox draws gratefully on the visual arts talent of others. Their illustrations and photos prompt me to think meta-creatively.  Thinking outside the box is all the buzz, so much so that it's become positively trite and unimaginative. These four videos are my effort to challenge and rethink such notion.

There is the Box

The box doesn't seem to get much respect, does it.  When we say "Think outside the box," we imply a pejorative meaning to box.  It can represent those undue limits that we self-impose and-or others impose.  These are limits that prevent us from solving problems more effectively and advancing our efforts more successfully.  So we wish to break out of the them.  

But are all limits necessarily bad?  If we were think openly and broadly about the box, we might see it as the  crucial rules and regulations, codes of conduct, and ethical precepts we must abide by.  Also, if we were to re-imagine the box, that is, as a physical container, then it can serve a host of uses for organizing, safe-keeping, and hiding things.    

There is the Space Inside

If we suppose that using the open mode of our Right Brain is thinking outside the box, then using the closed mode of the our Left Brain is thinking inside the box.  While one is about brain-storming, when ideas are freely offered and put on the table, the other is about working with focus, purpose and logic.  For innovation to occur, both are crucial modes (rf. Iain McGilchrist - The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World).  

Forget brainstorming: People are at their most innovative when they work within the constraints of what they already know.
I believe that they overstate their points, and swing the pendulum way too far inside the box.  Nevertheless, their point is well taken.  Steve Jobs may represent the quintessential outside-the-box thinker in our generation, but making those sleek products that originated from his imagination must have taken a lot of very tedious and conventional, but no doubt crucial, efforts.  So one way to consider innovation is a series of iterations between outside and inside the box thinking.  

There is the Space Outside

When we promote thinking outside the box, I wonder how much we truly grasp and appreciate what we're saying.  Whether a figurative or a literal thing, that box contains a finite space.  But outside of it is a vast universe.  I daresay that that humble box lies at the foothills of infinity.  It's fascinated physicists and mathematicians, along with philosophers and theologians, and me as well.

There is a quite a lot to discuss.  But for now, suffice it to say that without the rigors of mathematical principles, insight and formulas (i.e., the box), and the opportunity to apply them to solve problems (i.e., thinking inside the box), then we have little or nothing with which to grasp the infinite universe.  Said differently, we can master outside-the-box thinking, mainly, and perhaps only, when we've mastered thinking inside the box.       

There are the People

We mustn't forget the people, of course, although we seem to have an unassailable knack of overlooking people.  Innovation is a mindset, as I posited earlier, but given a task, aim or purpose - as we are, in any organization - we must have the requisite ability, motivation and energy (AME) to actually innovate.  If we don't have these assets, then we must acquire them, such as through learning and development, or engage others to fill our gaps, such as through team selection and specific consulting.  

Keeping in mind the intricate threads between Right Brain and Left Brain, I propose in this last video that we must (a) think imaginatively, creatively, widely, boldly, openly and flexibly as well as (b) focus, analyze, solve, strategize, plan and leap.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!  Also, if you'd like a PDF of this article, please e-mail me at

Ron Villejo, PhD

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