As marketers, I’m sure we’ve all heard sayings that are meant to challenge our line of thinking and productivity. You may be asked to “think outside the box” or be told that the six words that will kill your business are “We’ve always done it this way.”
Though these sentiments are meant to challenge employees, they foster the notion that your thinking must be grand in scale and allow for widespread changes.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with thinking big. However, neglecting smaller, more frequent changes in the name of scale can be damaging.
Thinking outside the box doesn’t need to apply to one item or task. It can and should be a mentality that you employ on a daily basis.
You should always be thinking about how you could improve your workflow and the deliverables you present.
Let’s look at reporting as an example of thinking differently by making minor, but impactful, updates. Most reports I review are stagnant month over month. The tables and graphs are the same, while the analysis is vanilla.
To improve the report, review it as if you were the client. Ask yourself questions such as:
By asking these questions and then making updates, you aren’t reinventing the wheel, but you are challenging yourself. Therefore, instead of taking things as they are, you’re looking to better your work and provide an improved experience for all.
Another example is with your everyday communication. When responding to a message, are you simply answering the question at hand, or are you forecasting what will be said next to craft a more complete response?
Let’s look at this line of “simple” communication:
Person A: How many webinars should we run in Q2?
Person B: Let’s run three.
Person A: Why do you suggest three?
Person B: That’s one webinar for each month of the quarter.
Person A: Will you be scheduling and setting up these webinars?
Person B: Yes.
Now, let’s see how forecasting would have allowed person B to send one response instead of three.
Person A: How many webinars should we run in Q2?
Person B: Let’s run three so there’s one webinar for each month of the quarter. I’ll plan to schedule and set up these webinars.
On person B’s part, all it took was some thought of how to provide a more complete answer. This foresight allows for more succinct communication and saved time, which could be utilized somewhere more pressing.
Tasks such as better communication may not be your first thought for how to think outside the box, but these small wins add up to make you more productive.
As a final example, I was recently working with a client who had tried Facebook Ads in the past and didn’t see success. For the particular theme he wanted to target, there was no search volume in Google AdWords and Bing Ads.
He was adamant about the obstacle of past Facebook failures, but knowing how much the platform has improved with its audience targeting capabilities, I suggested we give it another shot. We ended up seeing new leads that we would not have received otherwise.
This suggestion to use Facebook wasn’t groundbreaking, but it did challenge conventional thought. Thinking differently can result in wins in smaller day-to-day situations like this one.
Another way to look at thinking outside the box is to think critically — in other words, going beyond the face value of what you see and are told so that you may draw your own conclusions. Too often, we’re content with the status quo.
Again, this scenario doesn’t mean we have to make wholesale changes, just that we should be more aware and willing to question our day-to-day activities.
You may have inferred this point already, but a large part of thinking outside the box is the desire to be a better employee. Without determination or a passion for your work, there is little motivation to challenge yourself.
That’s why being in the right environment helps foster different thinking. Going back to the main theme of this post, outside-the-box thinking should be considered holistic and not a one-off solution.
Finally, we often forget that it’s okay to fail. Not every idea or thought you have is going to be a winner. In fact, you may ruffle some feathers as you present new ways of thinking.
The key is to be confident as you stand behind your reasoning. People may not agree with your thoughts, but they will respect what you have to say if they can tell you’re invested.
Thinking outside the box isn’t a one-off occurrence, but rather a state of mind. If your mindset is to always be questioning and wanting to better execute, you will bring new ideas and ways of thinking to the table with higher frequency.
Propping up outside-the-box thinking as a mythical, grand notion that will change everything isn’t the right way to address this concept. Rather, understand that a culture of innovation occurs when you are consistently thinking critically.
By: Matt Umbro