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Is Outside-the-Box Graphics overdue for a name change?

I’ve given a lot of thought on changing my company name Outside-the-Box Graphics. I hear the term used all the time in the media to the point it no longer serves my intention: to express innovative, unique thinking.

For today’s speech, I want to explore the use of the term “thinking outside the box.” One succinctly understands what it means without going into a full explanation. It’s an expression that denotes innovation and creativity to finding unique solutions to difficult problems. But first, let’s clear up the confusion between the two terms: outside-the-box and out of the box. 

Out of the box means “new” right out of the box before it’s had a chance to be used. Outside-the-Box, on the other hand, refers to thinking outside the norm, beyond the confines of a box. It is a metaphor for creativity and innovation.

This expression came to prominence in the early 1970s by psychologist JP Guilford who researched the subject of creativity. He challenged his subjects with a nine dot puzzle (not his invention – the puzzle has been around since at least 1914* to find a solution to connect all nine dots with just four straight lines without lifting the pencil from the page. 80% of participants could not solve the puzzle. Guilford used this puzzle in his research and it became a mantra to express innovation. The term “outside the box” went viral. This research spawned creativity gurus everywhere to teach how to think creatively, or outside the box.

It didn’t take long to become a widely used metaphor. It’s used regularly in the media. What makes it so appealing to use is that it captures the essence of innovative thinking in a nutshell with this simple phrase. Even today, decades later, the metaphor is still considered a starting point for individuals and teams looking for new ideas. 

However, I question whether this expression has lost its meaning. Its overuse has turned it into a cliche. I question whether it’s time to change the name of my business. Forbes – the magazine and online platform for leadership strategy even has an article titled “Why thinking outside the box is the wrong way to approach innovation.” At the start of this article, the author states that “You’ll never find the best ideas until you recognize there is no box.”

Whether you realize it or not, there are boxes all around us. We’ve been taught what is—and isn’t—possible. You learned that there are risks, and often repercussions, for trying something totally new and different. And when you think about it, it started at an early age. Chances are, one of the first things you were taught as a kid was to color inside the lines. Yet it is just another box. If left to your own devices, you most certainly would have happily colored all over the page.

At work: let’s say you’ve got this crazy new idea, but you’re convinced that your boss won’t go for it. (After all, he effectively hated your last idea.) Instead of letting his previous feedback stop you, recognize the artificial boundary condition that you’ve placed on yourself —and choose instead to go for it. That’s precisely the mindset you need to solve difficult problems. 

The kind of creative thinking that leads to serious innovation requires approaching challenges without any boxes. And while that may sound all well and good, the question is, how do you get beyond the box, especially when it’s been reinforced, if not baked in, over time?

The author’s suggestion? Set your box on fire. That way, you’re forced to make a choice: get burned, or get out. The human survival instinct is extraordinarily powerful, and the “fight-or-flight” response will lead you out of the box. (Not to mention that you’ve also now destroyed the box.)

He says sure-fire way to set your box on fire is to get rid of your backup plans. That way, success is the only option. If you are someone who’s constantly trying to think outside the box – the author’s point is: don’t. Tell yourself – there is no box. Set your box on fire.

I’ve given his argument a great deal of thought. As a designer with my own business called Outside the Box Graphics, I’ve often pondered the thought that my name has become a cliche. 

I will say this – this expression captures exactly what I do and what makes me different in my work. I am always looking for unique innovative solutions for my client’s brand. I argue we need a box from which to spring – a box, a foundation with context and parameters so we can break the rules. As a designer, I look at the language of my client’s market and the key players in it. This context – this box – allows me to see what is being said in their market and what we can do to find ways to make my client stand out and be differentiated. 

For years I’ve questioned whether to change the name of my business as I am fully aware the term outside the box has become a cliche. But for now – I will keep using the term outside the box to express my  business as it succinctly captures exactly what I do that differentiates me in my business. However, I welcome feedback on whether I should keep the name or if it’s time to change my name in an effort to avoid its overuse.

1. Should I change my name Outside the Box graphics?

2. Should I keep my name?

Feedback welcome.


Creative Director/Outside-the-Box Graphics

* The first known publication was in Sam Loyd’s classic Cyclopedia of Puzzles, 1914.

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