In my birth country of Nigeria, we have over 250 ethnic groups with equally as many languages. My parents are from two different groups, speak different languages and have different cultures. I spoke three or four languages at home in any given conversation, and was given and called a different name by both parents in their respective languages. What this environment taught me, at an early age, was that there are multiple paths and perspectives for every issue.
This capability is what made CEOs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Amar Bose (founder of Bose electronics) successful. For me, the ability to achieve “beyond the box” thinking comes down to three underlying principles:
1. De-socialize yourself. Too many times, when leaders think deeply about a problem or challenge, they are merely doing what they have been socialized to believe is the right way to think about a problem or process, and it is very difficult to break this habit. All great business innovations and inventions in history have come from people who have not bought into this paradigm. For example, consider Steve Jobs. Who would have thought that a computer could have color? Or graphics? Or be a piece of furniture or art? We need to be conscious of our socialization and be able to step out of it so we can produce original thinking.
2. Deconstruct, then reconstruct. Imagine any fundamental idea or industry being composed of LEGO® pieces. Each piece has its own color and shape and exists on its own before it becomes part of a larger structure. When you break the structure of your question, challenge or problem down, you can decompose the paradigm that underlies it and take a look at each piece individually to determine: How would I ideally want to put the pieces back together? Once you deconstruct, you may be able to think of alternatives to achieve functionalities that are not consistent with the traditional way of doing things.
As you identify the parts, evaluate whether you can create an innovative, efficient and flexible new way of achieving the same functionality or objective. For example, take a look at the success of Amazon. They fundamentally deconstructed the traditional relationship between a reader and an author, but kept its essence in place, i.e., the author writes a book and the reader gets/buys the book. What was fundamentally restructured was how these two events occurred. Gone was the physical bookstore to be replaced by an electronic one; traditional inventory was replaced by one of the most efficient just-in-time supply chains in any industry. Then they followed that by restructuring the traditional physical book into an electronic platform that cut down on the weight and exponentially increased the number of books that could be purchased and carried efficiently by a reader. This sort of fundamental deconstruction and reconstruction is possible in every business; it simply takes a different way of thinking.