I really hate the expression ‘think outside the box’. In my experience when someone asks you to ‘think outside the box’ it doesn’t help you to be creative, it just puts you under pressure to come up with quick fix solutions and makes you feel scorned and rejected for not being more ‘outside the box’ in the first place.

We think inside boxes because that is how we have been conditioned from an early age. At school we learn that we get rewarded for conforming, for getting things right, and not for inquisitive enquiry or being a maverick or a disruptor which is what ‘thinking outside the box’ requires.

Because thinking inside the box is ingrained into us from an early age, it’s not realistic to simply ask people to ‘think outside the box’ and expect that they will easily be able to do it.

I was speaking at the International Fundraising Congress last month and I had the pleasure of listening to the opening keynote by Dan Pallotta on innovation with purpose.

It turns out that it’s not just humans that are held back by the limitations that are conditioned into them. It applies to fleas too.

Training fleas requires a glass jar with a lid. The fleas are placed inside the jar and the lid is sealed. They are left undisturbed for three days. Then when the jar is opened the fleas will not jump out. The fleas will never jump higher than the level set by the lid. And, when the fleas reproduce, their offspring will automatically follow their example.

You can check out a short demonstration of the flea training, here. 

Asking people to change the habits of a lifetime by thinking outside the box or even ‘jumping outside the jar’ simply isn’t a reasonable or realistic request.

How might we banish ‘thinking outside the box’ as a phrase and better help ourselves and support our teams to really innovate and make change happen?

I’d love to know your thoughts, and you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my new book The Innovation Workout.