Boxing Clever

by Mary Jackson (November 2008) 


In an attempt to move with the times, England’s oldest universities are requiring applicants to Think Outside The Box. The University of Boxbridge – sorry, Oxbridge – asks interview candidates whether they are a grapefruit or a magpie. The University of Camford has gone one better and requires would-be students to choose between man and mouse.


Thinking outside the box – “out-of-box-y-ness” – has served us well. Its first proponent was Charles Dickens, after whose self-sacrificing lateral thinker Sydney Carton, the box itself was named. “It is a far, far bigger box than I ever filled before.” Carton, you could say, gave the concept its original heads-up. But it is in the business world that extraboxital thinking has delivered the whole package – whatever the undertaking. Paul V. Arnold:


Thinking outside the box

By reincarnating its production processes, Batesville Casket Company has a plant that’s truly to die for.


What Ford can’t do for its customers (but would love to in five years), Batesville Casket Company has done every day for the past three years.


 The family of the deceased (a.k.a. the real end-user) works with a funeral director and chooses a casket.  The choice will either be a stock model, a model customized to some degree (different color, interior, hardware, etc.), or a model fully customized and personalized to reflect the deceased’s life, loves, work, hobbies and/or personality.


Even the French have got out of the box and in on the act:



“Sortir de la Boîte” is the title of: “un des best-sellers actuels sur le management et le développement personnel.” (French is easier than I remember it.)


Going forward, it’s time to put out-of-box thinking into cold storage. Wikipedia tells us that it no longer cuts the mustard:


The idea of thinking outside the box is that unconventional problem solving could be used to solve problems where conventional thinking could fail. The encouragement of thinking outside the box, however, has possibly become so popular that thinking inside the box is starting to become more unconventional. This kind of “going against the grain means going with the grain” mentality causes a paradox in that there may be no such thing as conventionality when unconventionality becomes convention.



Thinking inside the box is the new thinking outside the box. Naomi Karten – yes, really – unpacks this for us:


If I had a doughnut for every time someone advocated thinking outside the box, I wouldn’t be able to squeeze inside the box to point out the flaws in this idea. 


 The next time you hear someone urge outside-the-box thinking, see if the situation is one in which those involved have overlooked the possibilities inside the box. And whenever you hear a claim about someone having done outside-the-box thinking, see if you agree. Or might the thinking have actually taken root well within the box? 
Our challenge is to look around from our perch inside the box and ask, “What options and opportunities are right here for the taking?”


Nobody has explained what to do if the box is full of envelopes. Do we push the envelopes, or do we keep stationary?


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Mary Jackson contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.  



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