The phrase “thinking outside the box,” as commonly used, is not only a cliche, it’s an oxymoron; because few who have truly considered the meaning of the phrase, really want it.

Thinking outside the box means thinking outside traditional normatives and mores. But normatives and mores are the building blocks for shared communication. They are our way of thinking and behaving. By living inside those borders we are safe and comfortable. To go beyond their borders means art, or science in the sense of experimentation. Both live in the unfamiliar.*

Connect all the dots using four lines, without lifting the pen off the paper. Hint: Think outside the box.

Connect all the dots using four lines, without lifting the pen off the paper. Hint: Think outside the box.

In other words, truly thinking outside the box means Picasso, John Cage, Trio-X, and every 100th student at MIT and CalArts. Being outside the box conjures a thesaurus of words like strange, unusual, weird, uncanny, awful, smelly, messy, unique, fantastic, glorious, transcendent. It can also be scary and lonely. We know. We’ve been there.**

What most trainers and marketers usually really want is derivative thinking.

Derivatives are not merely instruments of unethical financial behavior. They are based on well-known social conventions. Disruptive technologies are not outside the box. Most often they are  extensions of unsocial, but conventional, behavior.

The use of the word “disruptive” (and it’s aging predecessor, “edgy”) is, perhaps, an unconscious nod to “the box.” Disrupting a given social order, or being “on the edge” can be a metaphor for many potential changes – from emotionally explosive to physically dangerous. But “disruptive” is most often used in ad lingo to describe, I submit, that border between derivative and the truly unique – that which is “outside the box.”

The truly unique

Why should you care? The truly unique is ground-breaking; it evokes an emotional response, sometimes a physical reaction, such as the riot that greeted the premier of the Rite of Spring in 1913. But the result can provokes actual thought. Thought, of course, is often unwelcome, and is unnecessary in the Attention stage of adoption-diffusion and advertising. But if the emotion is strong enough – especially if it is positive – it can push a clients brand into instant recognition, and prospects scurrying to discover more.

Being outside the box isn’t for everyone, and deciding how far to go outside the box is fraught with second-guessing. So if you’re thinking of going there, call us for a tour. It’s where we work on many days,** before we drive home in our solar powered flying cars to our cubist homes and minimalist pets.

*Great authors on the subject include C.P. Snow and Dr. Rudolf Arnheim.

**Sinard has been a consistent early adapter of new – outrageously new, and often unique – technology and art. We were amongst the first to use a new technology called videography in 1970; “interactive” in 1984; digital video editing in 1987; Sandin Image processing in 1990, and Portable Domes in 1997.