Out of the Box Thinking: Whatever Happened to Just Hard Work Instead?

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© higyou - Fotolia.com

If I hear someone tell me they are getting “out of the box” one more time, in terms of solving a problem, I’m going to shoot myself!

“But Tim! Isn’t that what every boss wants to hear?” (Is anyone annoyed yet that I ask myself questions in my posts, because I assume the reader is to dumb to ask these questions themselves? Me, I am!)

Anyway, one of the only reasons someone gets “out of the box,” if they are somewhat intelligent, is they are trying to find a way to solve the problem by doing less work. Probably 99.9 percent of all of your problems can be solved by just doing the work that is in front of you – but that can be hard, time consuming and takes discretionary effort. So, we get “out of the box,” instead!

Wildly successful — and “in” the box

We feel this need to “do more with less,” “think smarter, not work harder,” or, “find a way to work an end-around,” with a problem. We tend to value “out-of-the-box” thinking over “plain-old” hard work.

One of my three rules of blogging is: I can’t write about my wife (it’s just like the Fight Club rules; the first rule of The Tim Sackett Project is that I can’t write about the wife).

So, let’s just say there is a special woman in my life (you’ll come to learn I’m not a very good rule follower). This special woman is the most successful person I know, personally, in my life. There hasn’t ever been a time in her life when she was not wildly successful at whatever it was she put her mind to (again this isn’t my wife ).

Now my special woman friend is not an out of the box thinker, in fact, she very much likes being in the box – it’s warm and comfortable and you know what to expect. Remember, she’s not successful – she’s “wildly” successful!

So, what does she do? She works harder than everyone else – always. In fact, if there is any easy way to get something done, she won’t accept it, she’ll find a harder way to do it! She sees a problem and immediately goes to work on it, gets dirty, sweats, stays up late, gets up early, and flat out-works everyone else to solve the problem.

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Why do we overvalue out of the box thinking?

We tend to over value out of the box thinking in our society. Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and place to creative thinking and planning, but there is also a time and place for hard work – and that time and place should be taking up more time than most of us are allowing for.

Too many buy into Abe Lincoln’s quote: “Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” That’s great, but if your “axe” is already sharp enough, start chopping down that damn tree! Eventually the law of diminishing returns comes into effect. The axe can only be so sharp, where it actually helps you cut faster. After a certain point you’re just sharpening to sharpen.

What did we learn here?

  1. There is absolutely no replacement for hard work (try assessing for that!).
  2. Creative thinking is wonderful, to a point, and that point is when work needs to get done.
  3. I’m not seeing another woman – my wife is a really hard worker and wildly successful and this isn’t a make-up piece!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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1 Comment on “Out of the Box Thinking: Whatever Happened to Just Hard Work Instead?

  1. Great post Tim – Especially in a field like HR where we have so much great science to guide what we do, “out of the box” is just plain scary.  What it likely means is “I know there’s lots of stuff that’s proven to be effective, but I’m going to go for what’s behind curtain #2 instead.”  Our clients in the business are not looking for “out of the box,” they just want us to work very hard to execute the basics flawlessly. 

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