The phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ has become so embedded in the business lexicon that it now seems to be the ‘go to’ phrase every time something new or different is in the offing. That doesn’t mean that the approach has lost its meaning. Far from it! For example Dr John Kotter’s work in highlighting the way in which dual operating systems can aid a culture of innovation relies on the core business being carried on within the box, while the innovative thinking goes on outside it.
But sometimes thinking outside the box can imply that there are only two options; i.e., existing processes and brand-new processes. But there is a third option in which organisations draw on existing examples and applications either from the natural world or from other business sectors. One such application has been highlighted in the press recently with reports that an organisation which has trained dogs to sniff cancer has had approval for an NHS trial.
There is nothing new about our drawing on enhanced animal senses, after all dogs are already being used to sniff out drugs and other substances and pigs have been used to sniff out truffles since Roman times; but if this trial is successful, it could open up a whole new area of medical investigation.
This is only one of numerous examples of innovation in one area transforming thinking in another. So perhaps as we move our organisations away from strict process and towards a culture of innovation, which embraces initiative and creativity, we should think less about being inside or outside the box and more about whether we should be moving the box to maximise advantage.