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11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

11 Ways to Think Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box is more than just a business cliché. It means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before. Ironically, its a cliché that means to think of clichéd situations in ways that aren’t clichéd.

We’re told to “think outside the box” all the time, but how exactly do we do that? How do we develop the ability to confront problems in ways other than the ways we normally confront problems? How do we cultivate the ability to look at things differently from the way we typically look at things?

Thinking outside the box starts well before we’re “boxed in” – that is, well before we confront a unique situation and start forcing it into a familiar “box” that we already know how to deal with. Or at least think we know how to deal with.

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Here are 11 ways to beef up your out-of-the-box thinking skills. Make an effort to push your thinking up to and beyond its limit every now and again – the talents you develop may come in handy the next time you face a situation that “everybody knows” how to solve.

1. Study another industry.

I’ve learned as much about teaching from learning about marketing as I have from studying pedagogy – maybe more. Go to the library and pick up a trade magazine in an industry other than your own, or grab a few books from the library, and learn about how things are done in other industries. You might find that many of the problems people in other industries face are similar to the problems in your own, but that they’ve developed really quite different ways of dealing with them. Or you might well find new linkages between your own industry and the new one, linkages that might well be the basis of innovative partnerships in the future.

2. Learn about another religion.

Religions are the way that humans organize and understand their relationships not only with the supernatural or divine but with each other. Learning about how such relations are structured can teach you a lot about how people relate to each other and the world around them. Starting to see the reason in another religion can also help you develop mental flexibility – when you really look at all the different ways people comprehend the same mysteries, and the fact that they generally manage to survive regardless of what they believe, you start to see the limitations of whatever dogma or doxy you follow, a revelation that will transfer quite a bit into the non-religious parts of your life.

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3. Take a class.

Learning a new topic will not only teach you a new set of facts and figures, it will teach you a new way of looking at and making sense of aspects of your everyday life or of the society or natural world you live in. This in turn will help expand both how you look at problems and the breadth of possible solutions you can come up with.

4. Read a novel in an unfamiliar genre.

Reading is one of the great mental stimulators in our society, but it’s easy to get into a rut. Try reading something you’d never have touched otherwise – if you read literary fiction, try a mystery or science fiction novel; if you read a lot of hard-boiled detective novels, try a romance; and so on. Pay attention not only to the story but to the particular problems the author has to deal with. For instance, how does the fantasy author bypass your normal skepticism about magic and pull you into their story? Try to connect those problems to problems you face in your own field. For example, how might your marketing team overcome your audiences normal reticence about a new “miracle” product?

5. Write a poem.

While most problem-solving leans heavily on our brain’s logical centers, poetry neatly bridges our more rational left-brain though processes and our more creative right-brain processes. Though it may feel foolish (and getting comfortable with feeling foolish might be another way to think outside the box), try writing a poem about the problem you’re working on. Your poem doesn’t necessarily have to propose a solution – the idea is to shift your thinking away from your brain’s logic centers and into a more creative part of the brain, where it can be mulled over in a non-rational way. Remember, nobody has to ever see your poem…

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6. Draw a picture.

Drawing a picture is even more right-brained, and can help break your logical left-brain’s hold on a problem the same way a poem can. Also, visualizing a problem engages other modes of thinking that we don’t normally use, bringing you another creative boost.

7. Turn it upside down.

Turning something upside-down, whether physically by flipping a piece of paper around or metaphorically by re-imagining it can help you see patterns that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. The brain has a bunch of pattern-making habits that often obscure other, more subtle patterns at work; changing the orientation of things can hide the more obvious patterns and make other patterns emerge. For example, you might ask what a problem would look like if the least important outcome were the most important, and how you’d then try to solve it.

8. Work backwards.

Just like turning a thing upside down, working backwards breaks the brain’s normal conception of causality. This is the key to backwards planning, for example, where you start with a goal and think back through the steps needed to reach it until you get to where you are right now.

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9. Ask a child for advice.

I don’t buy into the notion that children are inherently ore creative before society “ruins” them, but I do know that children think and speak with a n ignorance of convention that is often helpful. Ask a child how they might tackle a problem, or if you don’t have a child around think about how you might reformulate a problem so that a child could understand it if one was available. Don’t run out and build a boat made out of cookies because a child told you to, though – the idea isn’t to do what the child says, necessarily, but to jog your own thinking into a more unconventional path.

10. Invite randomness.

If you’ve ever seen video of Jackson Pollock painting, you have seen a masterful painter consciously inviting randomness into his work. Pollock exercises a great deal of control over his brushes and paddles, in the service of capturing the stray drips and splashes of paint that make up his work. Embracing mistakes and incorporating them into your projects, developing strategies that allow for random input, working amid chaotic juxtapositions of sound and form – all of these can help to move beyond everyday patterns of thinking into the sublime.

11. Take a shower.

There’s some kind of weird psychic link between showering and creativity. Who knows why? Maybe it’s because your mind is on other things, maybe it’s because you’re naked, maybe it’s the warm water relaxing you – it’s a mystery. But a lot of people swear by it. So maybe when the status quo response to some circumstance just isn’t working, try taking a shower and see if something remarkable doesn’t occur to you!

Do you have strategies for thinking differently? Share your tips with us in the comments.

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Last Updated on February 20, 2019

How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

  • Taking a job for the money
  • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
  • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
  • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
  • Staying in a role too long out of fear
  • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

As in – getting promoted.

So how to get promoted?

I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

1. Be a Mentor

When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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“Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

This can get you stuck.

Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

“Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
  2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
  3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

2. Work on Your Mindset

Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

“If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

3. Improve Your Soft Skills

When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

4. Develop Your Strategy

Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why is it that you do what you do?
  • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
  • What does a great day look like?
  • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
  • What does real success feel like for you?
  • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

More Resources About Career Advancement

Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

Reference

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