Tony Samson-125


Boxes are a part of life. We put things in them (boxing) as well as take things out (unboxing).

“Unboxing” is also a digital event featuring the filming of new gadgets being taken out of their boxes for evaluation and review by tech gurus. The progressive revelation of a desirable object through the peeling away of covers has always offered a titillating pleasure even in some other settings — Okay, let’s not go there.

Boxing has also become a political event. A recent loss in this sport can have political consequences. Previous declarations that a win in this arena would bump up political chances need to be tested. Does a boxer move the needle of survey results with a loss? Maybe not.

Boxing lends itself too closely to political rhetoric such as: fighting for the prize, slugging it out for a win, and staying in the ring to withstand a flurry of attacks. In real life though, the skills set for winning (or losing) a match in the arena are altogether different from those required in mastering the politics of power.

Boxes have also become part of the vocabulary of management.

Exhortations to “think out of the box” require throwing away old-fashioned solutions and adopting bold approaches. “Stepping out of the box” is a favorite mantra of consultants. After all, if everybody is comfortable with current practices, is there a need for outsiders to offer 10 ways to think out of the box?

Planning sessions with consultants have an exercise precisely to get people out of the mental rut they have traveled too predictably before. Exercises in creativity (think of 25 uses for a paper clip) are supposed to unlock the right side of the brain. This parlor game allows blue-sky, off-the-wall, and out-of-the-box thinking. The facilitator nonchalantly lists down even the weirdest ideas. (Don’t laugh, that’s good — cheese holder; bra fastener, toothpick; fake beard…  what else can a paper clip be used for? Temporarily holding pieces of paper together…anybody else?)

Organizations consign jobs to boxes in the table of organization. The traditional hierarchical structure is depicted as an array of boxes connected by lines, both solid and dotted, to denote reporting relationships or the flow of information and decision-making. Boxes define the boundaries of power to avoid redundancies and overlaps. Turf wars are fought on the size and position of boxes.

The phrase “out of the box” is based on a puzzle designed by the British mathematician, Henry Ernest Dudenay to connect nine dots to form a box by crossing all the dots, without lifting pencil from paper or backtracking on any lines. The solution involves drawing beyond the nine dots to complete the puzzle. Extending the line outside is a creative way to connect the dots.

Even when there was no stated requirement to stay within the space of the nine dots, most of those tested did not think of venturing out of bounds — unless they had encountered this puzzle before.

There is only one rule for out-of-the-box thinking: if it is not impossible, then it is considered possible. Even defying the laws of gravity was achieved with the invention of the plane. Sometimes, traditional rules are broken when a new crisis arises— like reporting to the office for work. Remember that old practice?

In computer software terms, however, an application “out of the box” is one that is readily available to install without further modification. This other meaning ironically refers to a routine approach. It is off-the-rack and ready-to-wear. It is the default setting that requires no further tinkering.

A maverick posture does not always contribute to team play. Being “out of the box” can also mean being unhinged, out of whack, the odd man out, undisciplined, a cowboy going off by himself into the sunset. (Are we on the same page here?)

Recent news unboxed the once unthinkable prospect of the incumbent number one going for the position of number two. This idea was quickly put back in the box the following day as a breach of good manners. Will it stay in the box? We just have to wait and see.

Opening a closed box has its risks. When the mythical Pandora opened the box (or vase) she wasn’t supposed to, she released misery, illness, and plagues. And when the box was closed back, it locked in… the last gift of hope.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda