Well, first of all, I try not to use this expression. I’m sure I used to, until one day in a moment of enlightenment, I looked and beheld the irony of the expression. I’m sure many people have had a very creative person or team leader or someone say to them, “Well, yeah, I mean that works, but it’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for something different. Something outside the box.” To which you simply nodded your head and agreed and then tried really hard not to hit them, while struggling to think of a concept that was indeed outside the box.
Or, you’ve had someone say to you, “I like Bill. Bill has good ideas. Bill thinks outside the box. You should try to think outside the box like Bill.” And inside you're fuming and thinking about stupid Bill, who doesn’t really think outside the box, but in fact kisses ass by giving people exactly what they want instead of having creative integrity. Worst yet, you’ve had someone say to you, “I’m the kind of person who just, you know, thinks outside the box. Really pushes creative limits. Yeah, that’s me.” And you resist the urge to smack them. Just flat out smack them, while secretly noting that you’d never hire them or take them to lunch with you, because you really know the truth.
The truth: using the phrase “thinking outside the box” is in direct violation of what it purports. To say, “I think outside the box,” is to say that you don’t think outside the box. Someone who says it is using an inside the box expression.
And besides, what is this box that so many people insist upon thinking outside of? It’s very abstract and if there’s one thing a poet or writer tries to do, it’s to avoid abstract words like love, hate, anger or boxes without explaining them with a concrete example. Box, while seeming to be a concrete idea, like a real box that you can touch, is being used as an abstraction. Let’s attempt to be concrete. Let’s say this ephemeral box people talk about being outside of is really a cubicle. This cubicle I’m sitting in right now. Try for instance to insert a concrete word in the phrase, “thinking outside the box” in place of 'box'. Try it now. Good. That was very creative.
And now let’s try it together: “I like Bill. Bill has good ideas. Bill thinks outside the cubicle. You should try to think outside the cubicle like Bill.” Funny. Good old Bill. Outside the cubicle. Where he belongs because he doesn’t know how to work and come up with real creative ideas. At least a cubicle is a tangible kind of box. You can picture it in your head, as opposed to a billion different options for boxes.
Anyway, my example kind of sucked. Try some others, like an apple, a lampshade, or a frosty mug of root beer. Some of your own creative choices. I just hope you feel more enlightened about why the phrase is annoying and stupid and now you’ll never use it any more. Now you will truly push yourself to your creative limits and think of a way that’s not cliché or “inside the box” to express that you’re an innovator. An originator of great ideas, like you are.
On an informative note, Stoker and I are going to Arizona tomorrow to look for an apartment and check out the Conservatory. I’m anxious for a change of scenery and the chance to travel with the boy*. We’ve never traveled a great distance together, yet ("And then there's that word, yet..."). Just to St. George, Utah and good old Filmore. It will be interesting to see how we’ll feel together, traveling. I used to get really homesick traveling, but now my home will be going with me. I wonder how it will feel.
*Stoker, who is still not comfortable being called a man. And I think it’s cute to call him the boy, except for all those Freudian implications. In my defense, for most of my dating life I’ve gone for older men (more Freudian implications. Stupid Freud, doesn’t even know what he stupid does). My first boyfriend out of high school was 8 years older than me. And that was the trend for a long time. Older. Then I had a boyfriend who was my age. And then Stoker. He’s 4 years younger than me. But he’s the most mature and secure man I’ve ever been in love with.