If you’re in a creative field, you’re probably sick of the phrase “think outside the box.” I’ve decided to boycott it. I’m pretty sure it was never a useful idiom in the first place. It’s like saying “don’t think of giraffes,” and then all you can think of are giraffes. For me, thinking between the boxes makes a better trope. It’s one I can actually work with—and live by.
The reality is that creativity is a team sport. Good ideas don’t simply spew forth as you sit by yourself in an empty room, at least not in any reliable way. The best recipe for creativity has three ingredients: people, trust, and play. And the more difference you can find between the people, the better.
Creative folks tend to specialize. There are choreographers and composers, poets and programmers, illustrators and information architects. It’s when different specialists come together, learn to trust each other, and start to play, that the brightest creative sparks fly between us. You get to take an insight from one discipline, apply it to a different one, and see what happens. You get to hybridize and catalyze. That’s when it gets magical. Yes, we’re thinking outside the boxes, but more importantly, we’re thinking between them.
When you travel between countries, it’s hard not to instinctively compare and contrast cultures. I’m always keen to observe which influences have been borrowed, and which ones don’t seem to translate. (Side note: it’s insane that Italy’s ice cream donut sandwiches haven’t become a stateside craze yet.)
The same is true when you travel between creative disciplines, like from science exhibits to enterprise software, or from performance art to artificial intelligence. You get to discover that for digital content strategy, a museum makes a much better model than a magazine. Or that for machine learning, dance tells a far better story than diagrams. You get to think between the boxes.