Thinking Outside the Box Or Living Outside the Jar?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On July 11, 2016

Thinking-Outside-the-Box-Or-Living-Outside-the-Jar?Not that long ago, it seemed that ever time you turned around someone was telling you that the key to business success was to “Think Outside the Box!” While the idea was sound (new solutions come from new ways of looking at things), we heard the advice so often that it became almost meaningless.

In addition to that, what some people called thinking outside the box was really just a matter of changing boxes. Often, it was just doing the same thing with a slight twist or on a bigger scale. Personally, I believe that thinking outside the box (if you really do it) is still a great idea. One way to do that is to live outside the jar.

What does that look like? So many businesses spend all of their time, energy, and efforts completely focused on their own industry. If your company specializes in medical monitoring equipment that tends to be what you focus on. Naturally, you should be focused on your area of expertise, but not to the exclusion of what’s going on in other industries. Here are three reasons why that is important.

  1. Locked in by Lingo: Industries tend to develop their own lingo. You can call it “insider talk” if you want. Everybody uses the same language to describe parts, events, problems, and solutions. It inevitably makes its way into your marketing message. When you take your message to prospects, they may not speak the same language. The doctor who uses your medical monitoring device thinks in terms of medicine and patients—not in mechanical terms.
  1. Paralyzed by Perspective: A friend (who happens to be a software engineer) once told me , “Software people approach every problem assuming that it’s a software problem. So their solutions focus exclusively on software. Hardware people assume the problem is with the equipment. Naturally, their solutions focus on the nuts and bolts.” This is just a variation on the concept that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. It limits your ability to think creatively about problems.
  1. Oblivious to Opportunities: If all you think about is your own industry you can miss fantastic opportunities in other areas. If you’re in software development, you could be considered part of the larger computer industry. But if you limit your exposure only to people within that industry you’re missing out. Even the computer industry isn’t really about computers. It’s about how businesses and individuals use computers for their own purposes.

So what can you do to get yourself “out of the industry jar?” Read books and articles from industries outside of your own. Look for trends and ideas that break boundaries and spill over into multiple disciplines. Network with people from outside of your particular area of expertise. Ask them questions about how they solve problems similar to the ones you face. Force yourself to avoid “insider speak” and ask your colleagues to explain the terms they use. Ask yourself what lessons other industries can teach you about your own business.

Sometimes you need to break out of the jar before you can think outside the box!