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Thinking Outside the Box

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Daily life offers many opportunities to think outside the box. On board a jet plane, the flight attendant instructs, "Look for the nearest exit and keep in mind it may be behind you." Transforming pantry odds and ends into a gourmet meal is another example.

The other day, I was searching for #8 envelopes in the stationery store. I located the airmail and manila envelopes on the shelf at eye level but couldn't find the common ones. I asked for help. The attendant found them at the bottom of another shelf. I realized I missed an obvious opportunity to think outside the box. In support of my oversight, the helper suggested that these envelopes could be moved to a more logical and convenient location adjacent to the others.

"Thinking outside the box" refers to taking an imaginative approach to solve a problem, as opposed to a rigid, unyielding method that calls to mind a square box. In other words, thinking outside the box is often counterintuitive. Each problem is unique and often can't be anticipated or tackled with prescribed methods.

Long before the term was coined, great minds thought outside the box and made contributions. One example is Dr. Alexander Fleming who in 1928 discovered the antibiotic penicillin. Instead of thinking along conventional lines to regard the mold in his Petri dish as an annoying contaminant, he recognized the potential advantage of its effect-namely to wipe out the surrounding bacteria.

When the medical approach fails to yield results or a satisfactory solution, the sufferer can benefit from considering alternatives that lie outside the limits of Western medicine. For example, Mr. A suffered from pain in his knee caused by an inoperable condition. He consulted several physicians who offered nothing beyond lifelong prescriptions for pain medication. Fortunately Mr. A. persisted and discovered that acupuncture relieved the symptoms.

After diagnosing Mr. O's prostate cancer, the surgeon scheduled him for immediate surgery.

"Wait a minute," Mr. O said. "I want to consider alternatives." He was proud that he thought outside the box to avoid surgery and choose a less invasive approach.

CONCLUSION: Thinking outside the box is an invaluable tool, especially important to keep in mind when conventional thinking doesn't offer a satisfactory solution to a problem.