The expression “thinking outside the box” means thinking beyond convention or conventional wisdom, beyond the boundaries of the familiar and the usual, off the trodden path. It means imagining unusual, creative and new solutions to problems, solutions that are different from the normal, knee-jerk reactions to things, and from the normal way of looking at things and doing things. It implies forgetting all the assumptions that everyone else is making.
The expression has become part of standard management mumbo jumbo, unfortunately. Future managers are taught to think outside the box, in an effort to encourage them to be creative and original (but not too much). The expectation is that managers who are creative and innovative will help to boost the company’s profits.
The phrase comes from a riddle many of you probably already know. For those who don’t: take a look at the image below. You see a “box” containing 9 dots. The goal is to link all 9 dots using 4 straight lines or less, without lifting the pen.
The solution is here. I guess that makes the meaning of the expression somewhat clearer. I try to apply this approach to the subject of human rights. A few examples (click on the links to know more):
- The rule of law, although normally a prerequisite for the enforcement of human rights, can often be the most efficient tool to violate them. See here and here.
- Oppression and exploitation can occur by mutual agreement.
- Human rights activism can be counter-productive and self-defeating.
- No matter how hard we try to protect people’s human rights, they often don’t care about human rights, or even reject them. So why do we try?
- Human rights violations may be self-inflicted.
- Some human rights violations may actually benefit the victims, and may not benefit the perpetrator.
- Some human rights may be taken to such a logical extreme that they become duties.