harry houdini

Think Inside the Box

Have you noticed how often we hear the phrase, “Think outside the box,” like it’s the secret sauce to being creative? It’s as if creativity is this wild, untamed thing that only a few “chosen ones” have. 

This is the myth that’s been sold to us. Creativity, they said, is a natural-born talent, and without it, you’re doomed to a dull existence. But here’s the kicker: that’s just not true.

In the workplace, this myth takes center stage. 

You’ll find leaders who cling to the “way things have always been done,” These are leaders who might as well wear a sign that says, “I’m not creative.” 

They are the ones who, when budgets tighten and resources thin, throw up their hands and say, “We can’t do anything new or different.” 

But what they’re saying is they can’t think inside the box—the very place where creativity often thrives.

It’s a pickle, really. 

When leaders lack creativity, teams get stuck in a mire of what-ifs and if-onlys. The misconception that creativity is a special attribute, bestowed upon a lucky few at birth, leaves organizations rigid and stale. Meetings become echo chambers of the same old ideas, and opportunities are lost faster than pens in the office.

Here’s the truth: creativity isn’t about having an abundance of resources or breaking free from every constraint. It’s about making the most of what you have. It’s about seeing resources where others see emptiness. 

And yes, it’s about doing a Houdini sometime. You can find your way out of tight spots because you’ve mastered the art of wiggling through the smallest openings.

So, why does it matter when leaders aren’t creative? Because it trickles down. It means problems get solved in the most unimaginative ways, and ‘innovation’ is just a fancy word in the annual report, not a real action plan. It means we all lose—products, services, morale, you name it.

Let’s set the record straight: creativity isn’t a magical ability; it’s a muscle, and like any muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it. And sometimes, the best gym for that muscle is the very box others are trying to escape.

Think Inside the Box

Let’s talk about Houdini and your job. 

You see, Houdini made a name for himself by doing the impossible, all while boxed in. At work, we’re often boxed in too—by the market, by our budget, by the clock ticking away the hours until the next deadline.

Constraint breeds creativity. You know those days when you’re swamped, when the to-do list is a mile long, and you’ve got to find a new way to solve an old problem? 

That’s your Houdini moment. Instead of a straitjacket, it’s the project constraints that you need to wriggle out of with an idea that’s just crazy enough to work.

Be resourceful in crises. And when the server crashes or the shipment’s late, and everyone’s looking to you—what do you have up your sleeve? It’s time to pull a rabbit out of your hat, or better yet, find a fix with the tools you’ve got. 

That’s thinking inside the box, using the scraps around you to patch the holes and keep the ship sailing.

Preparation meets opportunity. Say there’s a sudden chance to pitch to a big client, but you’ve only got what’s in your briefcase to make an impression. Houdini could escape from a milk can; you can turn a handful of pens, a notepad, and a smartphone into a presentation that dazzles. It’s not just making do; it’s making waves.

Perform under pressure. And when the quarter’s closing, and the numbers aren’t meeting the forecast, that’s not the time to panic. It’s the time to perform. 

You dig deep, shuffle the numbers, and find the strategy that’ll pull a win from what looked like a certain loss. That’s the real magic show.

The box is a reality check. Look around your office. That’s your stage. The policies, the hierarchy, the workflow—that’s your box. It might seem like those walls are closing in. But in reality, they’re full of hidden doors and secret compartments for you to discover and use.

Thinking inside the box is about making the best of every tight spot, every scarce resource, and every ticking second. It’s about knowing the tricks to use when the usual tricks won’t do. It’s about not waiting for more to work with but working wonders with what you’ve already got. That’s the art of the escape. That’s thinking like Houdini at work.

Strategic Thinking & the Box

Strategic thinking—it’s not just a fancy term you toss around in boardrooms to sound smart. It’s about making the now count double. It’s about setting up dominoes so that when you hit the first one, the rest fall in a way that paints a picture you’ve designed. 

So how do we teach leaders to think inside the box strategically? How do we get them to see the walls not as limitations, but as the first step to their greatest performance?

First, we stop glorifying the idea that you need a blank canvas to create a masterpiece. Every leader has a canvas already—filled with lines, colors, and textures that are the current state of their organization. Teach them to understand this canvas deeply—every nook, cranny, and constraint. 

This knowledge is power; it’s an insight into how to turn what is into what could be.

Next, we teach leaders the art of resourcefulness. Show them how to use what’s at hand. Think MacGyver, not Merlin. Encourage diskarte. The magic wand is great for a show, but a paper clip bent the right way can do more than you think. Look at the mundane—budgets, schedules, manpower—and see a toolkit for success.

Then, get them comfortable with being uncomfortable. The box is a tight space, and that’s good. Comfort zones are where ideas go to retire. Put leaders in situations where they have to make decisions with limited intel and tight deadlines. It’s in these high-stakes scenarios that the most innovative strategies are born.

But let’s not forget about the future. Strategic thinking inside the box means planting seeds for tomorrow. It’s about making decisions that not only solve today’s puzzles but also set up opportunities for future wins. 

It’s chess, not checkers. Leaders should be thinking three moves ahead, even if it’s within the four walls of their current ‘box’.

Finally, we can’t just tell leaders to think this way; we have to show them. Consider case studies, workshops, and simulations. Use these tools to paint the picture of what strategic thinking inside the box looks like in action. 

Let them experience the triumph of turning constraints into victories, and watch as they start doing it on their own.

Help leaders learn strategically. Show ‘the box’ is not just a space but a springboard. It’s about taking the limitations we have today and using them to catapult us into a better tomorrow. 

That’s how we get ahead of what’s possible. 

That’s strategic thinking, inside the box.

Read: 15 Benefits of Creative Thinking for Workplace Leaders

Read: Think Outside the Box