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Unpacking: Think Outside the Box

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It's a familiar phrase, but one that has succumbed to the burden of being overused in business circles.

"Think outside the box" is widely understood to mean creative thought, mindfully avoiding the limitations of existing practices and processes.

As problem solvers, it's an idea that we encourage at Capacity. Even with the need for a robust, structured supply chain to get 99% of orders delivered, it's that other 1% that holds the risk of failure, which disproportionately affects how customers view your brand.


In terms of our recent examination of continuous improvement, it's an important part of developing new ways of working that reduce waste in an organization or increase customer satisfaction.

Repackaging Think Outside the Box

Solution of the Nine Dots puzzle
Puzzle solution (Credit: Wikipedia)
English: Nine Dot Puzzle
9 Dots Puzzle (Credit: Wikipedia)

The boxes above represent the origins of "outside the box" thinking. It dates back to 1914, when Sam Loyd's Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks, and Conundrums was published, including the Nine Dots puzzle you see above.

The rules were simple: connect all of the dots using four straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper.

Much like the phrase it inspired, the puzzle is widely known by now, so no spoiler alert for providing the solution in this case (you more than likely have plenty of puzzles to solve in your business anyway, we don't want to add another!) Sam Loyd's original formulation of the idea labeled it the "Christopher Columbus Egg Puzzle" and, much like the infamous explorer's legacy, it has a polarizing effect.

In a business setting, some hear "think outside the box" and write it off as a buzzword, used to request some vaguely creative thought within the usual organizational framework. Others still see a valuable shorthand that authorizes team members to go beyond their standard routine and come up with original solutions to business challenges.

Either way, it's clear that we need to repackage the term to avoid alienating or confusing anyone who views it in a negative light.

At Capacity, we believe that's achieved by having an intimate understanding of existing processes, systems, and why they exist, but understanding that there will always be challenges that aren't routine. This happens regularly enough, up and down the supply chain, that effective logistics and fulfillment professionals know when a situation requires more than the norm.

For that reason, we obviously embrace outside-the-box thinking. It's where many of our custom fulfillment solutions come from, and gives us the opportunity to leverage longstanding connections, extensive experience, and the diverse expertise of our staff to solve any problem our clients can present to us. Our success stories section is full of such cases if you're eager for specific examples.

But equally, we have to recognize the value of what's inside the box -- not only literally, as we do with the products we handle, but figuratively. That means more than respecting the routines that have been put in place for everyday operations. It requires a close understanding of why they exist, where they came from, and how they have been developed over the years. From that base of knowledge, it becomes much easier to explore supply chain challenges and know that a quick fix will work, or when you need to brainstorm a brand new solution.

In summary, always interpret"think outside the box" for what it wants to inspire, creative thought, but never forget that the contents of the box are what drives your daily business.

Framing challenges with respect for both perspectives is the key to encouraging the right type of continuous improvement mindset in your employees and across the organization.

If you need to know whether the fulfillment issues you face require a solution from inside or outside the box, we're here to help. Contact us today to speak to an expert with the experience to address your concerns and explain the best way to improve your operation.