Think Outside the Box is often bad advice that leaves too many people wandering around, proudly lost in thought. The better opportunities come when you Think Inside Other Boxes…
How to Think Inside Other Boxes
1. Value the box inside your mind. It took lots of money and effort to build it, so don’t discount it. Just don’t overvalue it. Expand that value by connecting it into other boxes.
2. Find other people with interesting boxes, so together you can look at the same things from different angles, bridging a wealth of talents, experiences, insights, and ideas.
3. Create multiple-point perspective in your thinking by exploring how you can see the same things from different points of view, adding both breadth and depth to thought.
4. Do this over breaks and meals in a casual setting — when you can break bread, you break barriers.
Rules for Thinking Inside Other Boxes
1. Remember, you’re a visitor. Be polite, be curious, be humble, be prepared.
2. Be open-minded about more than just the thinking you already agree with. Try to withhold judgments long enough to learn something unexpectedly useful. As Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, suggests: “Listen as if you were wrong and wanted to know why.”
3. If you make a mess, apologize and clean it up — or you won’t be invited back in.
4. If you believe you’re right, learn to defend your best ideas logically, faithfully, and graciously. And, if you’re wrong, learn to admit it logically, faithfully, and graciously.
The advantage of thinking inside other boxes comes with the learning from boxes different from your own. Adapting the notion of multiple-point perspective, it’s bringing together different points of view about the same issue, but with a sense of common ground. Mutual trust is the thing that gives people the freedom to safely wrestle with the contentious issues. This works best when the sense of the shared underlies the sense of the divergent. It may mean connecting with someone from another country, it does not mean another planet. Find the connections first, then diverge.
Change is in the air. And in the streets. It’s on the placards, in the words of people on the march. With a single, united voice: Change!
Upon closer examination, what they really mean is that change is what other people need to do. We’re fine, you’re the problem.
Change isn’t always the real problem, too often it’s the people who propose it without self-reflection and humility. Back in the early 2000s, I was in a leadership forum for the city of Milwaukee. One evening, it was my turn to moderate the guest panel and the topic might have had something to do with leadership. Maybe the family. Maybe communities. The four panelists all were quite descriptive of how change was needed and long overdue. Towards the end, I wondered that all of their advice was directed towards others, so I asked how they themselves might change. What was it that they were doing that might need some improvement to help with change? This was not a welcome question nor obviously one with easy answers.
The great English writer G. K. Chesterton had said that the best criticism was self-criticism. Change starts inside first.
Over one hundred years ago, The Times of London ran an essay contest asking, What’s Wrong with the World? Chesterton, a prolific writer who had written over 100 books and over 5000 essays, responded to the question of what’s wrong with the world with this:
Before museums, private collectors would gather all sorts of things into cabinets. Some of those collections turned into famed museums. This was in an age of curiosity before curiosity became organized and thereby formalized. It was an age of generalized education for affluent young adults, and specialization came via apprenticeship. It was a special sort of age of discovery because most things had yet to be discovered.
Something has been lost along the way of finding all of those things. By separating them into morphologies and specialties, I think there’s less chance for the sort of cross-fertilization that leads to break-throughs. Sure, there are lots of people with broad general interests and even hobbies that encourage leaps of connections, but the average person should be just as curious and just as able to make new connections. Wealth is found in connections. What’s not yet connected?
My cabinet of curiosities is part of my process for crafting my own ideas. I collect quotations, graphics, and books… anything that catches my curiosity, and all within a condo furnished with furniture and art of Art Deco or Asian origin. At any point, there are about thirty books scattered about on any horizontal surface, some actively being read or reread, others perused to recall a line or notion that needs to fill a gap in theme. All of these brought together help the sparks of imagination.
The vintage graphics serve a special aspect of crafting ideas. A central theme in my Futurist work is that new does not necessarily mean good, and old doesn’t always mean outdated. Vintage illustrations are a fun way of connecting the past with the future. The question shouldn’t be are these outdated, but rather: What has enduring value? If it has a sense of timelessness with it, then it still has value. And, as someone wise once told me, the creation of value is the only reason to stay in business. How do we define value? That is one of the most important questions you can ask.
Since junior high, I’ve been collecting quotations, now with over 4000 in the database. Yeah, a database. It’s searchable, so I can throw in just the right or inappropriate notion at just the right time.
This website is my cabinet of curiosities. Unlike my talks, these entries are not presented in any particular order, but more along the lines of what’s catching my attention right now. Wander around and be curious.
When looking around your world with an eye towards the future, try to divide what you see into a fad, a trend, or a principle. A simple way of having that sense of that division between them is to play with fads, work with trends, and live by principles. Of course, that’s easier said than done because too often we’re seduced by fads, ignorant of trends and resistant to principles. Related to a sense of time, fads are momentary, trends are transforming, and principles are eternal.
Fads are like spice. You just need just enough to add flavor and flair to life. Fads are about being in the moment, particularly to enjoy that moment. In that sense, fads are very nice because they are very human. Fads can ruin things if they take too much of your time and attention, are seen as truth, or if a fad is embraced as a lifestyle. When fads are put in their proper perspective with trends and principles, fads are great.
Because of our economic and social obsession with trends, it’s not really surprising that there’s an almost equal and opposite reaction in our current obsession with fads. Too much of anything will cause a reaction towards the opposite direction. Even worse, we often are fooled into thinking that fads are really trends. Fads are marketed as the next trend of the future, oddly one right after another. Fads like to tell you’re they’re trends, so you’ll pay more attention. But fads don’t last.
You can never get enough of what you really don’t need. Eric Hoffer
Fads are about attention, which is the most valuable resource in the economy today. If your attention can be captured and held, everything else will follow. People who start or lead fads are all about capturing that attention for profit or power. Why would you embrace a fad if no one else notices? In an attention-based economy, fads are lucrative because of the constant turnover of what’s cool. If you’re selling what’s cool, you can’t rely on old inventory, it has to move fast and be replaced just as quickly. Fads often go with adolescence– to do something different, to be bored with the same old thing, especially when the culture and economy join forces to help convince you that new is better, and old is, well, old. Fads help adolescents challenge authority.
There is nothing culturally more subversive than the modern commerce of quick turnover in ideas. Philip Rieff
Fads can give the illusion of progress. They’re anchors that stop movement, except when it’s to move away from whatever is expected of you and rejecting what’s already in place. Fads are less about creativity than they are about reaction. Art and artists are often quick to reject the traditional in favor of their new visions because nowadays that’s what sells as good art. That attitude has spread into business and culture, though they would be the first to deny it. Fads pretend to be trends.
To do just the opposite is also a form of imitation. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
We should play with fads because they can be fun and help us to enjoy life. From styles of clothing to styles of culture, they are about being in the moment of life and reveling in being alive. Just keep them in perspective.
We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of either. G. K. Chesterton
Do you have enough fads in your life so that you’re not boring? Do you have so many fads in your life that you’re irrelevant? Just like with spice, enjoy them but if you use too much, you might spoil things.
Trends are about movement and transformation over time. Fads are like the waves on the water, they rock the boat and thereby capture our immediate attention. Trends are like the currents which move the boat. Currents are more difficult to perceive, but are far more powerful. One is able to navigate by learning more about the depth and direction of currents and stop obsessing about what just on the surface.
Trends are more adult-like because they take longer-term attention to notice. They often involve a sense of investment, whether that is with a long-term stock, the growth or decline of a company or even the way that we invest in the rearing of children. They take time and if we reacted to every little change with our investments, we cause more harm than good. There’s also a sense of delayed gratification with investment in trends. Fads are about today, trends are all about what comes after today.
We work with trends because that’s where our efforts will do the most good – long-term thinking applied to the notion of leveraging our resources and efforts to multiply the outcome. If you can pull some fads in to help achieve this goal, trends can work even better.
I don’t set trends. I just find out what they are and I exploit them. Dick Clark
Principles are about the eternal. Things that don’t change, shouldn’t change, can’t change. These are difficult to defend in an age where too many loud people insist that there are no eternals, there are no truths. I believe it is truth to say that they are wrong.
Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others. Groucho Marx
This is not to say that principles are absolute. The fact is that they ebb and flow and interact with other principles. In some eras, some principles are more regarded than in other eras. For instance, ask yourself which is more important, freedom or equality? You’ll probably have an answer, but you can easily find someone who will disagree with you. This is because freedom and equality are both principles. They are both true at the same time and yet they are opposites. It’s a paradox, and a delightful one at that.
There are times when freedom is more important and other times when equality is favored. Freedom without equality would be a jungle, equality without freedom would be tyranny. Both sides are equally important even if they do ebb and flow over time, mostly because we as flawed, imperfect humans can’t quite grasp how to keep them in balance. The graphic above showing the scales of justice support that notion that an equilibrium must be found in the midst of all the contending forces.
For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails, the other dies. Will & Ariel Durant
Just as fads anchor you to a moment in time and trends cross time, principles free you from time. Principles are not simply about this time, they are about all time, they transcend time. We can have the sense of principles being more elder-oriented because for too many of us, we don’t seem to appreciate them until we’ve grown tired of everything else that competes with them.
We grow conservative as we grow old it is true. But we do not grow conservative because we find so many new things spurious. We grow conservative because we find so many old things genuine. G. K. Chesterton
FADS, TRENDS AND PRINCIPLES IN THE MODERN WORLD
Fads are about attention.
Given the vague statistic that the average person today encounters several thousand advertising messages a day, your ability to get your message through depends a lot on knowing which fads are capturing attention in this moment. When you’re trying to gain the attention of a younger person, be that your child or your new worker, are you able to use the right words, images and metaphors that work with them, without trying to be just like them? It’s not a fad that younger generations easily see and reject older generations efforts to manipulate.
Trends are about intention.
Which trends do you follow? Which do you ignore? Once you know about a trend, you need to form an opinion about whether it is useful. Which fads can you use to pull others into either supporting or resisting a trend? In navigating current trends, have a sense of direction and endurance so you can anticipate how to use it in your favor.
Have an understanding of both investment and delayed gratification with trends. Because trends take time, one has to have a sense of the endgame — where is this trend likely to lead us five, ten, even fifty years into the future? In the advanced economies, we have been so seduced by the short-term and quarterly results that we are quite fad-like in our planning. Older cultures might teach us about having a much longer sense of time. Our own history, in terms of what we have forgotten or choose to ignore, can also teach about the value of long-term trends.
Principles are about truth.
Imagine that you were asked to begin a document with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…“ how might you finish that sentence? How might you finish the entire document to declare what it is that you believe? Do you believe that anything is true– that truth even exists– or do you believe that everything is relative and one so-called truth is as good as another?
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principles, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson
Unlike fads, which have tremendous marketing budgets behind them, principles are often left on their own and are not as easy to understand such that we easily are distracted from them in the day-to-day, busy world. In this world, the spoils go to the distractors— those best able to grab and hold your attention, and thereby gain access to your money— are the ones who get the gold and get to rule.
Only intuition can protect us from the most dangerous individual of all, the articulate incompetent. Robert Bernstein
Not all principles are to be equally valued, just like not all change is forward. The great struggle of our age is to define what should change and what should stay the same. It’s often said that in the future we’ll need more science and math in order to compete in the global economy. That’s true. What is even more true is that if we are to thrive in the future, we will need to study more philosophy, theology, history and biography. Science cannot tell us why we are here and what is the purpose of life. These four subjects may not be able to answer such questions either, but at least they lead us in that direction and that’s a good foundation from which to start.
Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty. Will Durant
Fads, trends and principles can be used as lenses through which to look at what’s going on around you. They are not always distinct from each other, as there’s often a little bit of principle inside of a fad. Trends are often revealed first through the fads that show up in a culture or an economy. Principles are often obscured by the modern obsession with both fads and trends, and the popular naiveté that say principles either don’t exist or shouldn’t…
Simply put, we should play with fads, work with trends and live by principles.