In business consulting, a rarely questioned orthodoxy now occupies a dominant position: effective business consultants must “think outside the box” if they’re to devise the most innovative solutions. However, we all think in boxes. We can’t not think in boxes. As business strategist Mark Chussil put it recently in the Harvard Business Review:

“A box is a frame, a paradigm, a habit, a perspective, a silo, a self-imposed set of limits; a box is context and interpretation. We cannot think outside boxes. We can, though, choose our boxes. We can even switch from one box to another…”

“Boxes get dangerous when they get obvious, like oft-told stories that harden into cultural truth. Letting a box rust shut is a blunder not of intention but of inattention.”

As the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan once explained, fantasy and what we call reality aren’t opposed. If we lose the fantasy frame though which we view reality, we don’t get access to the unvarnished truth. We lose reality itself: our imagined and implicit interpretative frames – the boxes I’m alluding to – govern what we see, what meanings we attribute. Without the frame, meaninglessness and chaos appear.

We can, however, move into other boxes, other interpretative frames, beyond the one to which we’ve become accustomed. However, we must first confront the weight of our assumptions: other boxes are invisible unless we actively look for them.

A Gestalt approach to finding other (perpetual) boxes involves allowing yourself to blur the distinctions between what you perceive as figure (the “facts”) and what you perceive as (back)ground (the presuppositions upon which the facts are constructed). New patterns start to emerge: the box we’re in usually prevents us from noticing these, but the very perception of new patterns suggests that a new box has successfully been entered.

In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll elaborate on how to discover new boxes.

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