Every problem has a solution. Don’t ever face an obstacle believing it’s impossible to solve.
Sounds like talking to yourself in the mirror on a Monday morning, right? But then you come across that report that just doesn’t summarize, that reconciliation that just can’t reconcile, that power button that just won’t power. Even that child who just won’t learn.
You think, wait a minute, this can’t be right. The boss (or your mother) says, run those numbers again. Same result.
Then there’s always somebody who comes along, someone totally unrelated to the matter blabbering the words, “It’s easy. You just need to think outside the box.”
Of course. After rattling your brain you realize, what the heck does that even mean? What box?
It’s a skill that few are capable of, but could it be that we are all born with it until it is burnished out of us? And could we learn to get it back again?
Don’t be a Follower, be a Leader
One afternoon I took my son to the park – a huge field just off the road, bordered on two sides by residential houses, and on the other two by expansive brushes. A football field stretched in the distance, circled by a paved walkway, and a shelter of concrete seats to view it all.
Closer to the road stood a fenced playgroup of ladders and slides and tunnels and even a rope bridge. Children whooped and ran in and out the metal and plastic structures, guardians lounged lazily on chairs or followed drudgingly along, all under a sun that was just cool enough to allow an evening of play.
I unleashed my son running, easily finding a rhythm in all this chaos. He tackled a ladder first, stamped a platform for good measure, then threw his frame down a slide. It only took three rounds of this before he wanted to try something different.
I could just see the gears of thought rotating in his skull – up a ladder and down the slide was just the natural way of things, but what if one could go up the slide and…
But this outside the box idea wasn’t unique to him, for taking a step back and viewing a different slide revealed another kid already putting the plan into motion.
Then came a resounding voice of authority, a smack of discipline, booming with such dominance it might as well have come from the sky. “Johnathon!” (name has been changed for confidentiality… well actually I just can’t remember haha). “Slides are for going down. Don’t do it! You have to go up the ladder and down the slide.”
Johnathon paused midway up the slide. “But look there’s that other kid doing it,” he said.
To which the owner of the authoritative voice, a tall alpha of a man with long limbs and a neatly shaved jaw, placed both hands on his hips, tipped his head upward proudly and responded, “Don’t be a follower, be a leader.”
I couldn’t help but grimace, not at the boy slugging down the slide in defeat, but at the great words spoken by the great man. Meanwhile my son was busy going up the slide and down the ladder, but only when it was safe, for I had to warn him – guide him really – that if other kids are coming down then you need to give them way, or resume the norm until things were clear again.
It made me wonder, was I doing the right thing?
Stay in the Box and Follow the Social Norms
I’m not saying rules shouldn’t be followed. There’s a reason why a road is one-way and that shouldn’t be broken. But I wonder if we sometimes inadvertently train our kids that this is the box and by no means should you think or step outside of it.
Once or twice isn’t bad, but after a lifetime of “slides are for going down and ladders are for going up,” is it any wonder why as adults we get trapped in our ways, unable to change, unable to see another angle, unable to solve a problem.
Stop drawing all that art nonsense! No more fiddling with cameras! That’s enough playing with poems! You have to be a doctor, a lawyer, a politician.
Meanwhile the same people who say these things are singing their favourite songs, binging their favourite movies, and reading their favourite books.
Lawyers and doctors and politicians are all great thinkers, sure (ok, maybe not politicians), but it’s not the only career path, and certainly not everyone’s desire in life.
Gene Roddenberry was thinking outside the box when he created Star Trek. J R R Tolkien was thinking outside the box when he wrote the Hobbit. Shigeru Miyamoto was thinking outside the box when he created Super Mario Brothers. Michael Jackson was thinking outside the box with the songs he wrote and sang. Even in my own country Trinidad and Tobago, from current generation Soca writers/singers Nadiya Batson and Kerwin Du Bois, going all the way back through the years to the people who invented the steel pan, limbo, and calypso music itself were all outside of the box thinkers.
So if we want to think outside the box, to come up with original solutions for all our own problems, first we need to recognize what it is, and acknowledge those around us who come up with original ideas, especially with our children, not limiting them to the norms of society.
I’m not telling anyone how to be a parent – I have no idea what I’m doing myself – but if my son wants to play, draw, or write in his own way, I’m not going to limit him with social norms. I’m going to encourage him.
Maybe that might even open my mind to new solutions.
Have you ever found yourself thinking outside the box? Want to highlight a great thinker? Let me know.