Don’t Think Outside the Box, Find New Boxes. Bringing Strategic Change

by Dan Light

The ability to survive in a world of accelerating change and challenge calls for ever greater creativity and that require a change in the way we think. We can’t simply “think outside the box,” as suggested by the buzz words. We need to “think in new boxes” to affect the transition we want and generate real competitive advantage.

Psychologists tell us that behavior is a function of antecedent events or, more simply, how we’ve behaved in the past guides or governs how we’ll behave in the future. This also applies to thinking so in trying to find a new box you’re starting with one strike against you.


To further complicate the process further we build models to legitimize and substantiate these preconceived constraints. We work to frame complex issues in ways to simplify them making them more readily understood and often, unfortunately, obfuscate them. And who hasn’t been told that, “we’ve always done it this way” after all it’s what brought us the success we now enjoy.

Thinking outside the box is mentally stressful because by stepping outside the box we also step out of our comfort zone. A totally new box places you back to the very early stages of your business. Will our customer base leave us? Is our pricing model right or adaptable? How will the competition react?

Why would you put yourself and your company through the ordeal of creating a new normal? You’re doing it because the old normal isn’t working or has totally disappeared. A daunting task but doable.

During the COVID shutdown we’ve seen restaurants delivering full or, sometimes, limited menus to curbside customers, art galleries showcasing their wares to perspective buyers via video and libraries delivering books using online reservations and curbside delivery. Social distancing and meeting size restrictions are inserting apps like Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams into the lexicon and standard operating procedures. Telemedicine is also expanding. This just scratches the surface.

But what if you don’t have a virus as a propellant? What if you just recognize the need to revitalize or pivot your business model. But how remains the big question. It may be as drastic as redefining the business. A car company becomes a transportation company justifying a move into trucking. A bank becomes a more ambiguous financial institution and begins making speculative investments. It could mean:

  • Finding new customers or a new market for old products,
  • Creating new products for old customers, or
  • New products for new markets and customers.

Achieving these changes could themselves require trying and/or unfamiliar methods. There are a number of tried-and-true methods that will increase the probability of getting what you want but consider the following.

  • Ask one or more people, with no vested interest, who know absolutely nothing about your business what they think or what they recommend. They’re thoughts aren’t affected by what you’ve done in the past or what you think will or won’t work.
  • Consider using a design firm, a consultant or someone else specializing in ideation. You’re not the first business forced into this position.
  • Hire a facilitator versed in change management techniques.
  • Ask existing customers what they want or would like to see you do.
  • Ask potential new customers what problems they’re experiencing, their effects and what solutions they would like to see.

This isn’t an all-inclusive list and as farfetched or as outrageous as some may seem they just might work for you. Remember, someone invented the Pet Rock, and someone thought of putting a man on the moon. Also remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

About the author

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