Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Phrased Out, Part 2: "Think Outside the Box"

Words and Phrases That Need to Be Banned, Part 2: "Think Outside the Box"
-OR- Creativity in Corporate America: Where We Are

There was a time when "Think outside the box" PROBABLY meant something. It meant something like "Try creative or unorthodox solutions." Regrettably, that was a long, LONG time ago in a dreamy, fog-enshrouded past where you could still buy lemonade in a dirty glass for a penny and spend all day at the local swimming hole without fear of being abducted by evil clowns hiding in the sewers. Like all things associated with true creativity, the UNCREATIVE masses (including roughly 95 percent of the corporate world) pounced upon this phrase like slavering fanboys descending on the latest variant edition of "Spider-Man Gets a Hangnail, Part 19."

After blithely appropriating it, these mindless twits then proceeded to twist the phrase for their own nefarious ends and rendered it inert. "Think outside the box" now roughly translates to: "Please think really, REALLY hard about how we can get more work done in less time, while paying you even less money, because I'm an overpaid corporate doofus who can't be bothered coming up with new ways to screw you over anymore, and I need you to do it for me." This is accompanied by the unspoken caveat that if you actually DO come up with a way to accomplish this self-defeating goal, said doofus will take full credit for it and be praised by HIS superiors for successfully "thinking outside the box."

Similarly, if you actually DO have a genuine creative breakthrough (as opposed to just coming up with a method for elevating your superiors while maximizing profit and marginalizing yourself), it is a given that you will be patronized or humored, while your idea is smacked down and ultimately passed over. Naturally, 5 years later, some savvy upstart company will make a million dollars when they accidentally stumble upon and implement the very same idea.

At that moment, your company will suddenly leap into action and come crashing through the metaphorical skylight like Adam West and Burt Ward trying to get the drop on King Tut. They will become frantic dynamos of action, flailing limbs in every direction as they desperately try to duplicate the lightning-in-a-bottle success of their competitor. If they DO manage to successfully mimic the winning formula, you will receive none of the credit, while the people you gave your idea to will be hoisted in the air, hailed as conquering heroes, and rewarded with the kinds of sexual favors you didn't think people REALLY did, but only made up funny names for.

The sad truth is, I've never met a creative person who says, "Think outside the box." It's time to ban this phrase. It's been perverted, and the people who use it don't really mean it anyway.

1 comment:

Gerry Schramm said...

Whenever someone says "think outside the box" I retort in my best Zen Master voice, "Think like there is no box." Then in the ensuing chaos I run away.