Think outside the box but what about the circle?

Limits and boundaries…

Everyone always tosses the term ‘think outside the box’ to define creative thinking and risk taking, but do we really do that?

Whether its the corporate world or our personal life, one is always pushed to attempt challenges we normally wouldn’t take.

However, when we do think outside the box are we really reaching or is there something like gravity involved that keeps us from going further?

Like the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, there are limits and boundaries that are either placed by corporate culture or societal norms that interfere with how far we can really go.

Boxes and Circles…

The Box…

The picture below illustrates what I am trying to convey.

Everything inside the box is our personal beliefs or departmental rules that we normally live under. They usually evolve to a comfort level that makes personal or departmental controls easy to manage. From a personal level it’s ‘being a follower’, from a corporate level it’s being like a ‘flock of sheep’ where everyone does the same thing just because everyone does the same thing! Very little risk taking and decision making, after all, one can always blame the leader or the flock!

But like a warm blanket on a winter morning, it creates a comfort level we are unwilling to shed.

The Circle…

The circle is like gravity. It’s the constraint we all face when thinking outside the box. It is the force that keeps us from soaring through the skies.

From a corporate standpoint we have departmental rules but also within a corporation we have the culture. This culture is created over time and becomes the foundation of what every company tries to mold their employees to.

My observation is that the older the company, the more that this culture becomes constrictive. This causes the circle to start tightening up around the box where eventually there are just small areas of outside the box thinking that one is allowed to reach otherwise you are going against corporate culture!

Since cultures take time to develop, young start ups like Google and Facebook have a huge circle allowing plenty of freedom to think outside the box. In many cases there may not even be a box! This allows for complete freedom to innovate and take risks.

As companies mature, and get ‘burned’ for some of the risks they took, the circle starts to be defined more clearly and starts surrounding the box closer and closer. This is the pitfall of many companies.

Look at every industry and you see examples of companies that strangled themselves to death. A prime example right now is Microsoft who at one time was an innovator but over time has turned into a dinosaur as they let their culture of PC based services be eclipsed by cloud computing. They are starting to reinvent themselves now but it may be too little too late.

How does the circle apply to personal constraints? Well just like companies, people grow too. They also evolve within a society or culture. Additional influences on this circle is religion and family. When you are young and ‘inexperienced’ you take risks and question a lot of those influences. You are indestructible and  somewhat a rebel to the culture or society you live under. Your circle is HUGE because you are still developing it.  You have very little constraints.

Some of the biggest innovators of our time created their success at a very early age such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.  They obviously not only thought outside the box but outside the circle too. They were doing things that people, society, culture was saying couldn’t be done or never been done however, they achieved it!

But as time went on they stopped being innovators.  Again, the constraints that the circle places on the box.  Zuckerberg is starting to experience some of those constraints as Facebook becomes more formal like all other large corporations. The key to staying an innovator is to not let the circle constrict the box!

World class athletes fall into this category too.  They ignore the norm, what is expected, and go beyond that. They don’t see world records as something that can’t be attained but rather something to shoot for and exceed. Their circles, just like business startups, are HUGE.

The beautiful thing about this is that EVERYONE can learn to think like startups, innovators and world class athletes in their personal lives.  It’s not a matter of being the best of the best in whatever you are doing but rather to be better than what you have become comfortable with.

This requires taking risks, going beyond the comfort zone and reaching for the outer boundary of the circle.

Another wonderful thing is that whether you are a mature company or an adult, you can change your boxes and circles through reinventing yourself. It isn’t easy but it can be done and has been done plenty of times.

A great example of a company reinventing itself is Apple.  In the 70’s and early 80’s it was the Google of that era. Then restrictions and corporate rules stifled the company almost to the brink of extinction. Enter Steve Jobs to the rescue again, and Apple is now considered an innovative and forward thinking corporation.

People also reinvent themselves every day. Many factors can trigger going outside your comfort zone, the box, such as job loss or promotion, death in the family, marriage or divorce, or a major illness.

The bottom line is this, it can be done, as long as you recognize the boundaries that are constricting you and are willing to go beyond that!

The Forbidden Territory…

So what’s beyond the circle? I don’t know it all depends on many factors such as how large is your circle or basically, how much of a risk taker are you?

The forbidden territory can be good or bad.  It is good if your circle of risk taking is small and you need to push it further into this territory.

It is bad if you are already taking high levels of risk within the circle.  This territory can include chaos, total anarchy, recklessness, life threatening risks.  For example, rock climbing with ropes (within the box) to rock climbing without ropes (into the circle) to rock climbing without ropes and going for speed records (forbidden territory, one mistake and you die).

Limits and Boundaries conclusion…

Once someone realizes the concept of boxes and circles, and is willing to change, feel discomfort, and go through growing pains, this is when they will experience their full potential and capabilities.

Many people never get to that point, the fact that this post has made you think about it, puts you ahead of the crowd already.

Being outside the box is one way to be….Fit Forlife



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