Sunday, March 05, 2006

Out of the box

I hate it when someone starts bantering about the phrase, "let's think out of the box." It is consultant-speak for "let's pretend to come up with some new ideas." Brainstorming usually kicks in at this point. And everyone is chastized before you brainstorm to not get critical. Every idea in a brainstorming session is a good idea. So they slap up everyone's brain dump on a flip chart so collectively the group can ooh and awww at the "out of the box" thinking that has gone on. Then they pick the ideas that closely match what they were doing in the first place. It's easier that way.

Okay, I'm here to point out (based on my own experience and therefore my own opinion) that groups don't think creatively. And no one is really very comfortable with out of the box thinking because there is a reason society puts us into a box in the first place.

Personally, I think that when great minds come together, great egos get in the way of creating anything truly great. That's why novels aren't written by committees and the only art created by consensus comes off an assembly line to be sold at a Holiday Inn for $25.

Creativity is a very personal thing. Mine goes on inside my head and most of the time no one would really want to see the process. As with hotdogs, it involves the mashing of lots of odd and often unidentifiable chunks of mystery meat (or thought neurons in the case of my thinking) into a nice processed looking product. But the irony of creativity is that the challenge is not creating something that looks different. The challenge is looking at something differently and making it accomplish something the same way in a more efficient or refreshing manner. This is why we don't see a lot of square wheels. Round ones simply work better.

I learned very early in life that it is one thing to look and think about things differently, but when it comes down to survival in life, you have to be able to say that 2 + 2 = 4 and not 2 + 2 = An Iquana. That is why teachers give tests. There may be lots of ways to arrive at an answer, but when push comes to shove they are only looking for one answer. And brilliant as you may think you are for coming up with an out of the box answer, unless it is the one they are looking for you are going to spend a long time in Fourth Grade.

It is like this in the job market as well. It's not so much what you know as what people think you know. Diplomas and experience go a long way towards creating the illusion that someone is competent to do a specific job. And once again, ironically enough, diplomas and experience aren't really a good indicator of squat unless a person can actually accomplish something on the job. For example, I've known Harvard graduates with 20 years experience on the job who haven't really accomplished much more than creating the biggest rubber band ball the company has every seen. But damn they look good on paper.

Now that I've posed the dilemma, what is the solution? Hell, I don't know. If I knew that, I'd be on some infomercial selling you the ideas. But then again that would be a pretty good indicator that I was simply selling you a crock of that crapola I like to refer to.

But if we all put on our thinking caps and think outside the box, I'm sure we can figure out something. In the meantime, I think our best solution to any problem is just that...think.

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