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When to Think Inside the Box

Thinking outside the box sounds great, but a bad out-of-the-box idea can kill your company.
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The capacity to create a business idea and get someone else to understand that idea is a fascinating human trait. Ideas can only come from humans. There is not an app for generating unique ideas.

I believe business ideas come in two major forms: “inside the box” and “outside the box.”

Have you ever asked someone or a group of people to think outside the box? This question usually comes up with something isn’t going quite right or needs to be improved upon. The response is usually, "Sure, I'll think outside the box with you." These sessions are usually filled with a storm of ideas.

But have you ever considered thinking inside the box? More than likely you haven’t, because we don’t often define this box we refer to all the time.

If you have not defined your business box, an outside the box idea could kill your business. Defining the box is actually quite simple, but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Dieting is simple, for example. You just need to consumer fewer calories than you expend. Yet few would say that dieting is easy.
 
So what is the box? It’s got three parts. The first, which is composed of what I call Way One thinking, is the development of business objectives. What I refer to as Way Two thinking is the creation of SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) plans designed to support the business objectives. And finally, Way Three thinking is the enormous amount of energy the tasks require to execute the plan.



At my digital marketing agency, Mojo Media Labs, we have four categories of key business objectives: finance, customer, culture, and internal business operations. Within each key objective are two foundations, for a total of eight objectives. Each of these objectives is tied to multiple documented strategies that are needed to accomplish them. I could not count the tactics we use on a daily basis to ensure we are on plan. This is our box.

We are constantly thinking of inside the box business ideas that will help us be more efficient at our tasks, increase the R (results) in our SMART plans, and ensure we hit our objectives. An objective is a target. The shaft of the arrow is the plan and the fletching of the arrow is the tasks. Everything must be aligned in order to hit our intended target.

We define “outside the box” thinking as any business idea that falls outside our current objectives, plans and tasks. This structure allows us to keep the team focused on the target for longer periods of time. We evaluate the box every twelve months and build a new box. Can you see then how an “outside the box” business idea could pose as a distraction during the course of normal day-to-day business operations?

The box also helps identify if you are working "in" the business opposed to working "on" the business. Some people are more creative in the box, or working in the business. Some are more creative and more passionate while thinking outside the box, or on the business. The ROE® methodology helps define the box; that thing we both think and work “in” or “out” of.

IMAGE: Lucy Nieto/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 6, 2013

R MICHAEL ROSE | Columnist

Michael is the CEO of Mojo Media Labs, a digital marketing agency that has become the laboratory for his Return on Energy methodology. He is an adjunct professor at Texas Christian University and a guest speaker at Southern Methodist University.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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