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Scott Peltin

A phrase that is often used (maybe too often) is that we need to “think outside of the box.” It is used to describe creative, innovative, and new thinking. It is a term that implies that the box we are currently in isn’t working and therefore we need to get our mind outside of the confines it currently resides in. 

Recently, I was watching a news show and I was amazed at how little "out of the box" thinking really exists. Too many politicians blindly repeat the same canned lines that dogmatically try to defend their hardened unwavering views. Too many protesters wave their statements of prejudice based upon their preconceived notions of hate that they learned growing up. Too many business leaders approach cost-cutting and problem-solving like performing surgery with a hatchet. Where is the “out of the box” thinking?

In many ways, the answer is in the neurophysiology of the brain. First and foremost, the selfish brain needs to protect itself. The brain does this in many ways. One way is to create nice and neat boxes to put things in. It sees stripes and says, "Ahhh, you must be a zebra". It sees a problem X and says, "Ahhh, you can be solved with solution X". It looks at everything in the world and quickly tries to determine which of the already pre-created boxes a thought or solution fits into. This type of thinking is efficient but rarely effective and is certainly not “out of the box".

Another way the brain protects itself is to create habits. Habits are unconscious or paraconscious patterns of behavior that don’t require the cerebral cortex to make decisions. We choose our foods by habit, we take a certain route to work by habit, we respond to a comment someone makes in a meeting by habit. We don’t think but yet we act. Although habits can be very useful and even help us develop and deliver high performance, many of us live off of default habits that have not been purposefully or strategically designed. 

Still another way the brain protects itself is to sabotage our thinking and behaviors to never outperform our own self-image. I am convinced that Maxwell Maltz had it right when he said that the root of all of our greatness, or our defeat, is in how we constantly create and support our own self-image. This means in order to think “outside the box” we must first SEE ourselves outside the box. You see the struggles with this all the time when people with low self-image surround themselves with only those who think exactly like themselves, they watch the news channel that supports only their way of thinking, and they argue vehemently with anyone who suggests that there could be another way.

So what does it actually take to think “outside the box”?  It takes a new approach to the way we look at ourselves and our own performance. It requires Sustainable High Performance strategies to purposefully create our self-image. It requires that we build a new mindset where we reflect and challenge our own beliefs, we develop our focus and concentration, and we control our emotions rather than be controlled by them. It requires that we oscillate throughout our day to rebalance our autonomic nervous system (regenerate from the stressors we are under) but also to create pockets of space to reflect and “be” different. It requires we nourish our brain with the nutrients it needs to come alive and it requires we move throughout the day to neurologically activate each and every brain cell. Fundamentally, if we really want “out of the box” thinking, we need to change the environment in which we work and create the Sustainable High Performance ecosystem that inspires and supports us to become our best thinkers. 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.