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Outside the Box and Up the Creek

Joyce Wycoff is running a quick survey to see what (if anything) we might replace the phrase "think outside the box" with. [Hat tip to Heath]As she says,

"Think outside the box" became a cliche because it was a great way to call for creativity ... urging people to breakthrough the pre-conceived notions and outdated rules that were limiting their thinking. It encouraged them to challenge their assumptions.

Somewhere along the line, however, it lost its punch and became a meaningless exhortation to be wild and crazy and ignore all the rules.

Now it's pure, unadulterated prejudice, but I have a gut reaction against these sorts of phrases. If I was up one particular creek without a paddle, and you said "hey, what we need to do now is think outside the box/do some creative abrasion/fire up a thought storm ..." - well after a small but beautifully-formed bout of rage I'd probably weep long and hard at being stuck with you. Or not.

The act of naming any process constrains it, doesn't it? I mean, it's fine to say in retrospect "two people were up a creek and they, er, thought outside the box and sorted out a happy ending". But actually to be in that situation, and to be asked to think "now I have to think different" seems to me to be the easiest way of ensuring you don't.

No. If I were up a creek, I'd want someone to say "fancy a cuppa" or "I never liked that paddle anyway".

[UPDATE: That said, for Joyce's survey rather than "thinking outside the box", I plumped for a return to the old-fashioned virtues of musing on a problem.]


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