They told us wrong, you know.
All those guys who kept exhorting us (for decades now) to “think outside the box,” urging us to forget about our limitations and be “free-free-free” didn’t give us the real story when they touted that ‘Unbound” mindset as the panacea for all of our gnarly problems.
In fact, I think they were blowing sunshine up the nether parts of our anatomy (with the best of intentions, of course).
I suspect they don’t even know what that “box” they keep talking about really is.
You can tell that they’re playing their air-guitars because they all seem to be enamored of that silly nine-dot puzzle where you’re supposed to join all of the dots that are arranged in a square with four straight lines.
Every one of those guys present the very same solution….as if it’s the only solution there is.
Do it their way and you get a gold star, I guess. Whoo-hoo!
What does all that tell you?
Mostly it tells me that Da Guys have taken what some acknowledged expert has said and they’re passing it on to me without really thinking on it.
The best riff I’ve ever seen on coming up with solutions to that classic nine-dot puzzle is this YouTube video, “Thinking Inside the Box.” It’s a short thing published by TEDxTalks in 2012 and features designer and marketing strategist Magnus Berglund at TEDxGöteberg.
See what I mean?
This guy plays inside the box. In fact, he makes it rock!
ANATOMY OF “THE BOX”
So, what IS this “Box” thing?
Every one of Da Guys will tell you it’s all those nasty, hard-rub limitations and constraints that handcuff you and bring you down and hold you back from realizing your True Potential.
Without all those stupid restrictions, prohibitions, obstacles, obstructions, and impediments to progress, you could soar, you know.
The thing is, they are right. We could all fly if there was no gravity holding us down.
Hey…us humans, we’ve got super-powers: Imagination, Ingenuity, Innovation, Inventiveness. All those good “I” words.
The problem is, we’ve also got a brain that’s set up to “fix” stuff. We are all hard-wired to be alert for ways to mitigate the irritation factor of the things in the world that make us uncomfortable or rub us the wrong way.
However, if there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything in our lives and if everything is all hunky-dory, then we just sit there.
Everything is FINE.
When our world is beauteous and beyond lovely, when it’s all going our way and there’s a cherry pie in the oven with our name on it, there really is no need for us to gear up, grab our trusty sword, gather our True Companions, and set off out of Hobbit-land on some weird-ass quest.
There has got to be some REASON for us to move our booties.
The End of The-World-As-We-Know-It is a Reason. So is an irritating hang-nail. So is some dumb tool that doesn’t work right or a rule or customary practice or system that makes no sense and is ultimately counter-productive.
These are the kinds of things that lure us into action.
And taking action automatically turns our lives into a movie or, if you want to be low-tech about it, the actions we take become the start of another story, song, or poem.
So, really, that “Box” all our wanna-be advisors keep urging us to “transcend” is actually The-World-As-We-Know-It (also known as TWAWKI).
Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not.
Only you can decide.
REDEFINING THE BOX AND HOW WE CAN USE IT
My own theory is that TWAWKI is actually like the big old refrigerator box my cousins and I got to play with one summer. That box was cool.
Before it fell apart, we built awesome worlds with it and got to go on a lot of adventures prominently featuring bad-ass truckers, pirates and one stuffed parrot, paladins and gunslingers, knights and dragons, really cool and crafty American Indian dudes and dudettes, super-heroes and other-worldly alien spiders, and things like that.
(We sat on the one cousin who just wanted to play “house” or “store” or “tea party.” He really was no fun.)
This 2015 video, “World’s Biggest Box Fort” by Family Fun Pack sure does bring back some sweet memories….
The thing we have to remember is that TWAWKI is what it is. We can do things with it, but first we have to make sure we are seeing it right:
The Box is the Box is the Box…but what ELSE could it be?
Not having the right tools or the proper materials for some project and faced with inadequate funding plus a fast- approaching deadline breathing down your neck as well as a clueless colleague or two and an assortment of dorkheads who are sabotaging your efforts from on high are all examples of the kinds of limitations, obstructions and constraints that define the parameters of TWAWKI.
They define the parameters of our Box.
These sorts of conditions help us see where we are standing.
If we look around within this space, we can begin to make an inventory of the resources that are available to us that we can use to resolve our problem.
With a map of the territory that has notations about the various obstacles and dangers marked on it and a list of available resources in hand, plus some sort of time-frame to work in, we can begin.
And, if we do it right, because of our inherent super I-powers, we humans can, indeed, change TWAWKI.
Maybe the changes we make will mitigate the problem. Maybe not. But, it’s possible that the action we take or the thing we make will be at least one step in the right direction.
If our solution sort of works, we’ll have a new starting place from where we can keep working on the problem until it is gone. (Then we can go find some other problem.)
If our solution falters or fails, we’ll know for sure that what we tried does not work and we can figure out why. Then we can go explore in some other direction.
In either case, we can go on.
Boxing ourselves in and defining the boundaries of that box are the first steps to breaking out and making breakthroughs, it seems.
(We already know that just sitting there in the middle of the road really does not work.)
Technology blogger and startups analyst Thomas Oopong, the founding editor of Alltopstartups, a resource for news about top internet startups and technological companies, wrote a cogent article for Inc. magazine in 2017, “For a More Creative Brain, Embrace Constraints”.
In it he delineates the whys and hows for using constraints and limitations to change TWAWKI. You can access it by clicking the button below.
ONE MORE TAKE
Innovation and leadership advisor Navi Radjou is a great believer in what he calls “frugal innovation.”
In this short YouTube video, “Big Questions, Big Ideas: Frugal Innovation with Navi Radju,” he gives a small glimpse at how working with limitations and constraints can lead to very real innovations that solve everyday problems for people who are not living in abundance.
The video was posted by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2018.
The highlight of this video is a refrigerator developed by a potter Mansukh Prajapati. It is entirely made of clay and needs no electricity.
Radjou, expounding more on his ideas in a post on the ideas.ted.com site, quips,
“If an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty, then the developing world must be filled with optimists. There, people have learned to get more value from limited resources and find creative ways to reuse what they already have.”
Besides Prajapati’s refrigerator, Radjou points to the resourceful entrepreneurs in Africa who recharge cell phone batteries with their bicycles.
Another successful project was a giant advertising billboard designed by students of the engineering and technology college, UTEC, in the city of Lima Peru, a city that is extremely humid but also very dry. (It receives only one inch of rainfall a year.)
The billboard the college designed absorbs the humid air and converts it into purified water. It generates more than 90 liters every day.
Radjou says, “In India, we call these kinds of solutions Jugaad, a Hindi word that means an improvised fix, a clever solution born in adversity.”
When basic resources are scarce and living is hard, there will be people who fall back on their own ingenuity and use it to solve their everyday life problems which can be truly fearsome.
Whatever else may be missing, human ingenuity is boundless.
And that is a very good thing.
Here’s a poem:
GONNA BE IN THE MOVIES
I just saw one more comic-book movie
Where the apocalypse comes
Riding in on mighty metal steeds.
Buildings blow up spectacularly.
People get squished like bugs.
Everything’s knocked flat.
The super hero wins.
The villain loses.
The world is safe for Humankind.
In the fare-thee-well,
There’s the super-hero (in disguise)
Walking through a bright and
Shiny, spanking-new building,
Full of bright and shiny people
With no flies on ’em.
Just another day in a workaday world.
The rubber band stretched…
And snapped right back into place.
I know, I KNOW…
It’s a dumb movie.
But, I have to wonder:
How’d those guys get things rebuilt so fast?
We are talking BIG buildings here,
Streets of them,
All busted up and shredded.
I mean, where’d they get the funding?
And I have to wonder:
Where’d they put all the dead people
That had to be lying around
All over the landscape.
Did the street pizza evaporate?
Did anybody cry?
Yeah, yeah, yeah….
It’s just a movie.
The good guys won.
The bad guys didn’t.
And it all just goes away…
Like mist when the sun comes out.
I got to thinking
How the whole thing ’bout “forgive” and “let go”
Has gotten tangled up with
“Ne’ min'” and
Lemme run this one out.
(My warped brain just won’t wrap itself around this.)
Here’s the deal:
You can stomp around
Doing scorched-earth moves,
Littering the landscape
With toppled, twisted dreams
And ooka-pile-plenty street pizza
As long as you can
Strike noble poses in the sun,
‘Cause, hey, you did what you had to do.
The rest is…well…”collateral damage.”
It’s your nature.
You can’t help it.
That’s how you are.
Your back was pushed against the wall,
So you blew up the world around you.
So then there’s the second half of this screwy equation:
All the REST of the people in the world,
They are NOT super-heroes.
They are helpless, civilized ninnies
Whose destiny, apparently,
Is to be street-pizza and cannon fodder
When the good guys and the bad guys have their tiffs.
And when it’s all done,
When all the dust settles,
Then everything just…kinda…goes back to regular.
‘Cause the fodder-guys,
They are chock-a-block full of
Mommy-understanding, of empathy and sympathy.
They are the embodiments of loving-kindness,
Of unconditional love
Or at least they’re supposed to be….
(Or maybe they’re brain-damaged and concussed….
No short-term memory.)
They’ll forgive ya ’cause they understand:
It’s your Nature.
So, they’ll all forget about it,
They’ll just pull together
And get this place back in shape
So all the good guys and all the bad guys
Can blow it up again.
I don’t know, guys.
Don’t make a lick of sense to me.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…
I know…only a movie….
So, tell me then…
How come our real-life leaders
Act like they are super heroes
Engaged in a battle against the wicked forces of evil-most-vile?
Does that mean WE are the cannon-fodder?
Are WE the evaporating street pizza?
And now I’m wondering
Just HOW are we supposed to rebuild our world
Once the dust settles?
How are we supposed to forgive, to forget?
Sure doesn’t look good to me….