Are You “In” or “Out” of the Box?

This past week I was working with my Destination ImagiNation teams as they were at the beginning stages of planning their solutions for their team challenges. One of the activities we were doing called “Number Boxes” involved placing 12 numbers in 9 different boxes in a way that accumulated points  based on the number of “rules” that you could satisfy through the placement of your numbers. A highly engaging activity, it led into a discussion afterwards around divergent and convergent thinking, and how different kinds of thinking come into play when we are being creative and attempting to solve problems.

Inevitably the discussions with each team circled around to what it means to “think outside of the box” an expression that most of them know quite well. As we explored what may actually constitute “the box” one young man put up his hand and asked, “Don’t you think most people are outside the box trying to find a way in?” I smiled as I remembered the first time he was on one of my teams. He was a walking talking calculator in a story about bugs.

In the RSA version of Sir Ken Robinson’s viral TedTalk on How School’s Kill Creativity, there is this image of a graduating class coming out in a big box that resembles one you would use to ship wine in with a label that says “Class of 2010”. And as much as that image is provocative regarding the impact of standardization, there is always the reality of surviving in a world with sufficient “executive functions” that allow us to successfully co-exist and find a place where we can make our contribution. Was it a yearning I heard in this young man’s  question about being on the outside looking in? Is it any less of a yearning than I hear in voices of his team mates as they struggle with how to create something that has never existed before for their challenge?

The teamwork for this group isn’t always easy. In instant challenges, our young questioner throws things into the mix that can upset the plan and derail their solution causing frustration. And then later in the day when they are researching and planning how they could build a robotic creature and making a list of the supplies they need, he walks around the room and scavenges through my junk box and office supplies instead of getting to work. But wait. The next thing we know, he has put together a grappling hook gun that he then uses to take their attention off their task when he shoots it at them. Suddenly, the team is excited. Their robotic creature could have a grappling hook gun…and somehow he has lured them out of the box and they have brought him in. For now…

Finding our place in the world can be a challenge. Whether we are struggling with  a way to forge our own destiny or struggling with how to fit in the boundaries we encounter, “this” is what learning is about. And just when we think we have it all figured out, the boundaries will shift once again. But in this moment…

We ought to be like elephants in the noontime sun in summer, when they
are tormented by heat and thirst and catch sight of a cool lake. They throw
themselves into the water with the greatest pleasure and without a moment’s
hesitation. In just the same way, for the sake of ourselves and others, we should give ourselves joyfully to the practice.
Kunzang Pelden (b.1862, Tibet) The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech (2007, p. 255) taken from The Descartes Lecture by David Jardine in the Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, July 16, 2012.


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