7 suggestions for inspiring “outside the box” solutions

Fri, Mar 27, 2009 at 12:15PM

creative solution nonprofit

Don’t Tell Me to Think Outside the Box!

While preparing for my keynote speech to the annual training conference of the Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services (FLAIRS), I asked several of their members what benefit they would like to receive from my presentation.

Jan Zak, 2-1-1 Program Director for United Way of North Central Florida had an emphatic response.

“I would love to learn something new that would help us. Just don’t tell me to think outside the box,” she said. “Everyone talks about thinking outside the box as if it were the simplest thing in the world, when in fact it is quite a challenge. Especially when the lid is shut!”

Jan is right. We all hear that “think outside the box” phrase as the solution for our creative needs. The problem is it doesn’t come with instructions, so just how are we supposed to get those creative ideas?

Instead of waiting for a magical idea to strike, here are seven action steps you can take to help create those outside the box solutions you are seeking:

If you want a different result from a current activity, do something different. Change behavior patterns. Get out of your comfort zone. Take some risks. You can’t do things the same way and expect different results.

Make sure your organization encourages innovative ideas and welcomes suggestions. Often creativity is stifled with less than positive reaction to new or different thoughts. Is questioning of the status quo accepted?

Give encouragement to the newer people who offer up solutions that have already been tried so that they’ll keep working on more ideas. If they get the usual “we’ve already tried that,” response their willingness to think out loud is quickly shut down.

Don’t automatically throw out what’s been done previously. Sometimes just a little adjustment is all that’s needed. Revisit old ideas with new information or fresh insight from new people.

Take your blinders off. Get out of your world and into the world of those you are trying to sell your cause to. What is the marketplace responding to right now? What are the latest trends and how can you take advantage of them? What need exists that’s not being taken care of? Eliminate “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Involve others in your creative thinking process. Who are the fun, innovative people in your organization? Try idea competitions and offer incentives.

Ask your customers, sponsors, and board members for their suggestions. In addition to getting good ideas, you’ll strengthen their connection with the organization and develop buy in for the new ideas being developed.

Knowing what your competition is doing and how they’re doing it is a great source of ideas. Every day businesses are sending out comparative shoppers to check out their competitors. You should be out shopping as well.

It is difficult to be creative when stressed, tired, and overworked. Time away really does help! Allow yourself more time in the places or activities that seem to be where your best ideas pop up. Also, do your creative thinking during your most productive time of the day.

Thinking outside the box is indeed a challenge. Utilizing these tips will help you establish a structure for creative thinking that will open the lid of that closed idea box!


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