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February 23, 2016





Good afternoon, my name is James, and this is the box that used to confine me. You might be wondering why I still carry it around with me. Well, although I didn’t realize it then, as you can see, my box is quite small. This is where my story begins.

Earlier in my career, it was not at all uncommon for me to be drawn into risk assessment and creative brainstorming meetings. After a while I begin to notice that about midway through each of the meetings, someone would invariably say, “This is really important, and nothing we are coming up with is helping. We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution.”

Although I actively participated at least as much as everyone else, and usually came up with some pretty great ideas, this whole out-of-the-box thing began to weigh on me. What did it really mean? I started thinking, “How can I begin thinking outside of the box if I don’t even know what my box is?” That was it! I needed to study my box.

So, after carefully thinking it through, I realized “my box” was really just a metaphor that meant something like, “How I have been programed over time to consider, process and respond in the same way to the same stimuli.” That is, I have restricted the dimensions of my analytical and creative processes to a narrow furrow that stretches out before me in a straight line, or as some might call it, a rut.

I must apologize, though, as it seems I have inadvertently mixed my metaphors. We were speaking of boxes, not furrows. So, in returning, I think we can say that my box is really a box, with fixed dimensions, and there I was, comfortably sitting within it. We can also confirm that it has a lid. Everyone agrees that it is possible to poke your head out to look for solutions that cannot be found inside your box.

As I noted earlier, my box was pretty small. That was not a problem, though, as I was nice and comfy within it. Once I learned that I could peer out of it when necessary, I settled back and carried on as usual. That is, until my little box began to shrink.

In looking back, I now realize that every time I poked my head up to look for out-of-the-box solutions, it was not the box that shrank, it was me growing a little larger. This continued for some time, until I was finally so cramped that I concluded I could no longer stay in this box. I needed to build another one, a larger one.

I began construction, and of course, I used the materials from my little box to get started. This is when it happened. I found myself standing outside of the box looking down at it. I noticed it was made mostly of very sound, sturdy materials. Of course, there were weak points, especially where the sides fit together. But that is not really what struck me.

Where did we come up with the idea that we are all confined in our little boxes, or that these boxes serve us quite well until something really important confronted us? As I stood there, I thought, these so-called boxes were not designed to confine us; neither are they the fixed dimensions that really define us. They are constructed of ideas, truths, aspirations and experiences that over time, we have put to the test. They are substantial and sound, and the principles that we draw from them have aided us greatly as we have made our way down the path to growth and the process of maturation.

Is it not, then the metaphor that creates the conflict? Who wants to live tucked inside a box, even if it does have a lid? That sounds more like an end-of-life place to repose. What if we reconsider the concept of the box as really being that set of personal presuppositions (personal beliefs that I have come to accept as foundational) that can, but do not have to restrict my thoughts, vision, and imagination? Ah, yes, now we are getting somewhere.

There is nothing wrong with adopting personal presuppositions. They are the natural, healthy byproduct of living, learning and growing. Only when they are left to harden and encrust around us as barnacles do they become constricting. Rather, they are designed to form a living pathway to inspire aspirations of deeper understanding, and fresh, imaginative and creative applications of that understanding.

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So, here I am, standing beside my little box. It is a reminder to me that the path before me is overflowing with opportunities for growth. My understanding is being stretched beyond its limits daily, and my dreams and aspirations ride along a path that is refreshed daily.

Oh, yes, and now when I am prodded with that oft repeated line, “We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution”, I respond, “There is no box.”

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