So What Is This Stupid Box In Your Head?

March 21, 2008

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create. Albert Einstein.

Image by Perla Lewis

When you’re trying to come up with business ideas, people will often tell you to “think out of the box”. I hate that phrase – I don’t think it’s helpful and it implies that your mind contains some stupid restriction that prevents you from using your imagination.

There Is No Damn Box

So forget the box. It doesn’t exist. It’s just a silly buzz word that some tosser thought up because it sounded good. The only restrictions on your imagination are self imposed ones. And while most of us can’t pull business ideas to die for from our minds at will, like a magician yanking a rabbit from a hat; there’s plenty of exercises you can do to stimulate your imagination and encourage an abundance of ideas to flow to you.

Make Time

It’s easy to believe you just don’t have time to do exercises to stimulate your imagination. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve cut many activities out of my life that were conducive to coming up with great ideas, simply because of the pressure of time. And it is fatal. The time you spend on stimulating your mind is never wasted. In fact, you’ll actually get more done as a result of doing these types of activities.

Don’t Close Your Mind To Learning

It’s possible to close your mind to new ideas without even realising you’re doing it. If you find yourself saying any of the following words or phrases often – you’re in danger of stifling your own creativity:

I already know that.
That’s impossible.
It doesn’t sound realistic.
It sounds dangerous.
I don’t like the sound of that.
It seems too risky.

Can you think of any more dangerous phrases you find yourself using? If so, substitute them with something more positive.

Use All Your Senses

Use a variety of different exercises and tools that engage your six senses, rather than falling into the habit of concentrating on those that just use one or two.

Forget Time Or Place

Don’t use the excuse that the time or place just isn’t right. You can use your imagination effectively no matter where you are, however bad things seem.

As Joanna Young, pointed out, in a recent article, WH Murray wrote his most inspirational work whilst he was in a Prisoner of War Camp. I can’t imagine that he was living in ideal conditions and it wasn’t the prisoner of war camp he was writing about, it was the mountains in Scotland. He didn’t need to be there to capture the most vivid and haunting descriptions in his writing. He simply used his imagination. And you can too.

Do you sometimes struggle to come up with ideas? Do you already use some useful tools and exercises to spark your ideas? Please share in the comments section.

If you would like to learn how to stimulate your imagination and come up with great ideas , click here to subscribe in a reader, so you don’t miss part 2 in this series: 27 Ways To Fuel Your Imagination and Come Up With Great Ideas.

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19 Responses to “So What Is This Stupid Box In Your Head?”

  1. Barbara Swafford on March 21st, 2008 7:02 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    That’s funny…”there is no damn box”. :)

    You’re the first one I’ve ever heard protest that saying. But, it’s true…

    I’m a big believer in “making time” (not taking time). If we have the passion or desire to succeed, it’s important to set priorities and make time to follow our dreams and/or passions.

    If someone doesn’t feel they have enough hours in a day, all they need to do is keep a “time journal” for a few days. This will document exactly how each block of time is spent. It can be a real eye opener when you realize you spend 20 hours a week watching reality tv or football.

    I like the Albert Einstein quote…it’s so inspiring.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..Do I Need A GPS To Navigate Your Blog

  2. Hunter Nuttall on March 21st, 2008 7:36 pm

    First it was “there is no spoon.”

    Now it’s “there is no box.”

    Sometimes I wonder if absolutely everything that appears to be in our way is purely made up.

    Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..I Can Has Digg?

  3. sterling | bizlift on March 21st, 2008 7:41 pm


    Your post made me stop and reflect. It was difficult for me to accept that there is no box.

    I can’t deny that I’ve experienced the box.

    I believe that whether we’re aware of it or not, we are constantly being confined and restricted by our own thoughts. Excuses, self doubt, and fear of not conforming to society are the substances that form the box.

    So by saying there is no box, it is confessing that there is no external factor limiting our possibilities or our creativity. We’re the only thing holding ourselves back. I can definitely accept that.

    Love the WH Murray reference form Joanna’s article. Reminds me of Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”. I felt a profound shift while reading it in my early 20′s.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking article Catherine.

    sterling | bizlift’s last blog post..Walking On Water Miracle Revealed. You Won’t Believe Your Eyes.

  4. Mrs. Micah on March 21st, 2008 8:03 pm

    Maybe “we are the only box”? Or “don’t be the box.” Moving beyond the box? There is no box, our thoughts just think there is one?

    Trying to figure out which would be best…

  5. Joanna Young on March 21st, 2008 8:11 pm

    Cath, you are such a good business coach! I love the way you encourage to open our minds to possibility, imagination, inspiration – at the same time as telling us to stop faffing around and just get on with things!


    PS Thanks for mentioning the Murray story. I found it deeply moving too.

    Joanna Young’s last blog post..Inspiring Words That Connect Us Together

  6. cathlawson on March 21st, 2008 9:11 pm

    @ Barbara – Thanks. I’ve done those lists before and even when you’re working, it’s so easy to slip into the habit of wasting a lot of time on activities that don’t improve your business.

    @ Hunter. It’s terrible isn’t it. But it could be worse. Maybe the election is just a cruel trick and you’ll wake up tomorrow and find out you still have Bush for a few more years.

    @ Sterling – I think everything that stifles our creativity could be perceived as the box – especially society. But the trouble is, once you start seeing the box as something real – I think it makes it harder to get out of it.

    @ Mrs M – I suppose it depends which you find easiest to see and which you find easiest to overcome. If you find yourself being more creative because you don’t see the box – that is a good thing. But, if you achieve more by seeing a box that you’re moving beyond, then that’s just as good. It’s the results you get that matter most.

    @ Joanna – thank you. Mind you – not everyone likes the way I say things. A guy once unsubscribed from my newsletter because he didn’t like my tone. He said he thought it was a cultural difference!

    And you’re welcome for the mention – it was a brilliant story and I’m glad you shared it.

  7. Debbie Yost on March 21st, 2008 11:35 pm

    Hi Catherine -

    I just love your writing. You don’t sugar coat stuff and tell it as it is. There’s no damn box! I never thought about that, but you are so right. Thanks for helping me forget about the box.

    Debbie Yost’s last blog post..World Down Syndrome Day

  8. Bloggrrl on March 22nd, 2008 1:26 am

    I really like this article. I can’t wait to read your second installment!

    Bloggrrl’s last blog post..How to Make Money Blogging Without Being Annoying

  9. cathlawson on March 22nd, 2008 7:13 am

    Hi Debbie – Thank you. In my early twenties – the box caused me so many problems, simply because I’d heard it existed and I believed I was trapped in it.. I love your new avatar by the way.

    Hi Michelle – thank you. I’m writing it in between looking for those damn Cornflakes. I thought I had Texas yesterday but it crumbled in my hand:

  10. Walt Goshert on March 22nd, 2008 11:44 pm


    There’s a box?

    “Think outside the box”… makes me want to mentally “throw-up” every time I hear it.

    Now, can we also banish…

    -centric? As in customer-centric. As in the customer-centric banks and Cable TV companies?

    Lazy, buzz-word corporate-speak controls thought…and limits the possibilities.

    Back to my daydreams… and solving my business challenges.


    Walt Goshert’s last blog post..Are You Making These Common Marketing Mistakes?

  11. Bob Younce on March 23rd, 2008 1:15 am

    Aight, I’ll be the one to play devil’s advocate, at least a little…

    There was a time when “think outside the box” meant something. It referred to innovation, effeciency, new ideas, new ways of thinking… to the exact thing that Cath is talking about here.

    I agree that, today, it’s a dead phrase with little or no meaning. Maybe we need a new metaphor? Anyone have any good ideas?


    Thinking around the problem?

    Be the ball?

    (5 points to the first person to get that last reference.)

    Bob Younce’s last blog post..Banging My Gong – The Brand

  12. cathlawson on March 23rd, 2008 1:53 am

    Hi Walt – I knew you would hate the box too. And you’re right – customer-centric sucks. I also hate Customer Charters – I don’t think anyone even reads them – never mind sticks to them. They’re about as effective as these long vision and mission statements you read.

    Hi Bob – I’m guessing you mean be the ball because it has something to do with balls bouncing and bouncing ideas of people. But I could be wrong.

    I suppose you’re right – one of the reasons it’s become so damned annoying is that it’s become a cliche.

    Imaginationing sounds a good one.

  13. Elizabeth Able on March 23rd, 2008 1:58 am

    Boxes open, close, burn, organize, horde… and they can be tall, small, fancy, utilitarian. That’s a lot of different perspectives from which to plot world domination — or at least to plot for success.

    I’ll vote for “be the box.”


    Elizabeth Able’s last blog post..Personal Branding, Personal Connection

  14. cathlawson on March 23rd, 2008 2:46 pm

    Hi Elizabeth – that sounds like a smart idea. I guess it would put you in control, as opposed to being controlled.

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  18. Mr. Nuggets on July 2nd, 2009 2:33 pm

    “There is No Damn Box!” I read it all, and found some great ideas and affirmations. But, that one just sums it up for me. So…damn…true!

    Thank you! :)

    Mr. Nuggets’s last blog post..Cordoba Nights

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