Tag Archives: outside the box

Embrace the Box

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God” – Ray Bradbury

ArtistHow often have you heard, “We need to think outside the box?”

Seems like a lot of folk use that phrase or something similar (my favorite is, “The solution came from left field.”).

While I believe that every human being is a creative type, everyone thinks differently. My experience is that most linear thinking folk are more apt to use terms like “outside the box”.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it means they are willing to go outside their comfort zone and consider more abstract, perhaps even illogical solutions or ideas.

I’ve always been a non-linear thinker. One of the benefits of having ADD is that my mind tends to race ahead, see the big picture, and identify connections that maybe a linear thinker wouldn’t necessarily see right away. While it is a benefit, it comes with potential problems in communicating with my linear colleagues.

When I was younger I would often become frustrated while I stubbornly tried to make people see the distant, abstract connections, or explain a complex concept. Over time I learned to have patience and empathy: the linear thinking people were just as frustrated with me! And, Heaven forbid, maybe even thought I was a bit looney or weird.

That’s okay with me. I don’t mind being a little weird or abnormal.

Then I discovered a concept that changed everything.

There is no such thing as “out of the box”.

Human beings, no matter how creative, abstract, modern or innovative, are designed to create order. In fact, in his beautiful little book, The Courage to Create,  the noted psychologist, Rollo May, makes a strong case that it is the artist’s job to bring form to chaos.

This made me think deeply about the nature of art, about life, about the universe. The fact is that there is an order to everything – even when it is not readily apparent. In essence, everything has a box. Even if we’re pulling an idea out of the chaotic swirl of cosmic matter, that idea was born from some type of order.

While I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill here, I think it’s an important distinction. Most people are linear. For that reason, knowing that everything intrinsically has a boundary can actually make the creative process easier and less overwhelming.

Our job is to either expand or contract the box.  It is to recognize the current order – and then to change the form. Artists do this all the time. Ask five painters to look at a scene and we’ll typically get five very different interpretations.  Their perceptions help us all to expand the box.

Same thing rings true when five colleagues are sitting around a conference table looking at a problem. We’ll get five (or more) different solutions that expand the box.

I think the key to solving problems is to first embrace the box. See the existing form as a reality. Begin there, and then go to work expanding the box with the realization that only God can exist outside the box.