Are We Too Afraid to Think Outside the Box?

Think outside box tic-tac-toe

Are we destroying the environment that created visionaries like Steve Jobs?

In an era of constant and often unforeseeable change, why do businesses predominantly focus on linear, quantitatively-driven logic to solve problems – even if these old ideas are what contributed to the problems in the first place?

In this age of “big data,” have the numbers become the goal – the “box” in which creativity and innovation are rigidly confined?

Where is the creativity – that elusive, non-quantifiable, intangible quality – that catapulted the U.S. into the role of a world leader?

Why are we so afraid to think outside the box?

No one would argue that the world has become much more complicated as conflicting demands compete for our time.  Nothing is certain and the risk for “failure” is always looming.

Circumstances change in an instant, destroying well-crafted plans in their wake.  Publicly traded corporations live and die by their quarterly earnings statements.  Technology controls us with a 24/7 e-leash that confuses the tool with its master.

Creative thinkers may be threatened with job loss not only if their new idea fails, but often if they innocently question the prevailing corporate wisdom.

In this fear-ridden environment that is the 21st century workplace, pragmatism trumps creativity nearly every time.  Rather than developing something new, employees believe that it is safer to take baby steps rather than boldly lead others into an unknown future.

Yet creativity and innovation are the de facto precursors of success in today’s global economy.

Pragmatism v. Creativity:  You Decide  

Pragmatism might appear to be safe, but it neither inspires nor motivates.  Pragmatism creates the walls that confine us within the status quo.

In contrast, creativity requires letting go of past assumptions.  Creativity speaks directly to that undefinable spark that makes us human.  Creativity expands the self-imposed walls, allowing us to explore ideas from vastly different perspectives.

While prevailing wisdom says that it is “better to be safe than sorry,” the allure of creativity reminds us that “no guts, no glory.”

But it takes courage to be creative.  Creative innovators are often ridiculed by respected leaders in their fields.

It also takes a thick skin to be creative.  It is much easier to acquiesce to peer pressure than defend one’s ideas.

It takes confidence to be creative.  Negative labels of being “cocky” or “arrogant” teach us to either fly under the radar or flee to another more accepting environment.

Finally, it takes a human to be creative – but creativity can only exist when the humanity of the workforce is consistently nurtured and respected.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creativity Is Innately Human

It is foolhardy and dangerous to focus primarily on “big data” as the source of creative problem-solving and decision-making.  While big data effectively shows what is happening, only humans are hardwired to creatively connect and make sense of the data points.  Unlike technology, humans can more easily make the leap of faith that leads to understanding not only why something is happening but also how to respond to it.

The level of creativity in the workplace is directly related to the level of humanism in its corporate culture.  When workers feel like drones, the probability of creative outcomes is negligible.

The 21st century business environment is fraught with dangers; only the courageously creative will survive.  Fear is the enemy of creativity.  When a company’s single-minded obsession is on “mitigating risk,” pragmatism reigns – but the human fire of creativity dies.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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