There's really no such thing as “thinking outside the box.” But we can select a different box to think in. Your box is your business model, your world-view, your paradigm. It is the framework of the metaphor that you use to make sense of the world around you.
A situation is uncertain when you cannot identify an appropriate paradigm or metaphor to associate with it. To make a decision is to resolve uncertainty by finding an appropriate 'box' from which to view the problem. The box you choose will determine how you see yourself in relationship to others and will dramatically influence the decisions that you make.
“Most campaign advisors see a political race as a game of chess, but that's not a good metaphor to use,” says Wizard Academy alum, Brett Feinstein. “In Chess, all the information can be seen by both sides, but that's never true in a political race. A political race is more like Poker. Some of the cards are on the table for both sides to see, some are held by your opponent, and some you hold close to your chest.” When Brett climbed out of the box marked “Politics is Chess” and into the box labeled “Politics is Poker,” he began a serious study of the game of Poker and soon became the winningest political consultant in America.
Have you identified the boundaries and limitations of the box you've been in? Are you kicking to get out of it?
In the male-dominated world of business we tend to use battlefield metaphors and sports analogies, not because these metaphors are particularly accurate, but because we are hairy males. The Wall Street Journal is filled with reports of “hostile takeovers” and best-selling business books include Marketing Warfare, Corporate Combat, and Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. But by choosing to do business from within the box marked “battle,” we adopt not only the outcomes but the value judgments of those who have occupied the box before us. In doing so, we unconsciously create a business environment that is hostile and defensive and find ourselves using words like “strategy,” “tactics,” “targeting,” and “dominating the competition,” never once considering that injury, sacrifice, destruction and loss are also part of that package.
How many people have been injured, families sacrificed, lives destroyed and relationships lost because we have elected to view business as battle?
Even if you're willing to accept the high human cost, battle remains a very poor metaphor for business:
In battle, as in sports, there is a definite end to the game, at which time a final “winner” is declared. But business goes on forever. The battle metaphor assumes that your “soldiers” are unconditionally devoted to you and deeply committed to your cause, willing to risk grievous personal injury for the good of the team. But is this an accurate description of your employees?The battle metaphor assumes that “the enemy” is evil. Is this really true?
The best way to eliminate your enemies is to begin seeing them differently.
Are you ready to get out of your box? We'll talk more about this next week.
Roy H. Williams