For the past 15-20 years, I have heard creative managers, professors, directors, teachers and writers tell us that we need to “get out of the box” to find better solutions.  As a Gen-Xer, I think “out-of-the-box-thinking” may be my generation’s’ credo.  If that is the case, I will spend the rest of this post arguing against the prevailing zeitgeist.  My sainted mother has always believed me to be a contrary soul, and I would hate to disappoint her now.  I’d like to argue that you, and those your are responsible for developing, must get back in the box.

Get Back in the Box!

Walk with me on this one.

It seems to me that the moment a thought becomes cliché, it becomes unmoored from the shipyard that built it in the first place.  Take the phrase in question:  “Think outside the box.”  According to Paul Muchinsky, this phrase was coined by a funeral director when suggesting to a grieving widow that she consider cremation and an urn for her husband’s remains over traditional burial and coffin (http://www.siop.org/tip/backissues/April%2004/pdf/414_116to119.pdf).  Let’s spend a moment thinking about “the box” in question.  In this case, we’re considering a coffin.  Without the traditional  solution (i.e. a coffin), the new solution (the urn) makes no sense.  We need the traditional solution to launch the new idea.  In some ways, our thinking requires a framework from which to launch the original, or groundbreaking idea.

Now consider how we encourage out-of-the-box thinking in our children and those we work with.  In the last few years, I have watched intelligent leaders fail to train those that work for them in the name of letting their staff think-outside-the-box or “make a program their own.”  This doesn’t end well.  And how could it?  Without some structure, framework, skeleton, or history to use as a foundation, an individual has nothing to build upon – no means of launching a new idea.  There is no reference point.  No context in which the new idea can be planted.  The cliché has taken over.  It overwhelms its own history making it irrelevant.

So how does this apply to kids and summer?  After all, that is what I write about.  Thanks for traveling this far with me, we are almost home.

Kids need structure (another cliché, I know).  More broadly, most people thrive in a situation that provides some amount of structure.  I believe that in order for an individual to reach her potential, she must begin with a framework – a grid of understanding.  As she masters the frame, her development requires that we show her which boxes to break in that framework.   Eventually, she will choose which boxes to break and which to retain to find unique and creative solutions to our world’s problems.

If you want your child to succeed, begin by building him a box.  Share your values, encouraging traditional learning (reading, writing, etc.), and then allow for opportunities to break that box.  Summer is a great time to give your children a chance to pursue new ideas, creative projects, and new boxes to break.  But don’t forget to build the box!

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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