“Think outside the box” has always been one of the phrases I love to hate. In my agency days, it was something that echoed up and down the corridors, usually tripping lightly off the tongue of some overpaid creative director-type who couldn’t come up with a more helpful way to articulate his “vision.” The writers and designers would cringe in unison and wonder exactly what the hell they were supposed to do. Most of the time, they weren’t even aware they were in a box, never mind understanding how to get out of it.
Still, getting “outside the box” does have some validity in the world of marketing if you think of the box as the “shoulds” of marketing.
The myth of “best practices”
I have some bad news: there is no silver bullet, no 100% guaranteed roadmap, no one-size-fits-all solution. I also have some good news: there is no silver bullet, no 100% guaranteed roadmap, no one-size-fits-all solution.
If anyone comes to you and tells you they have The Answer, run.
There is no “always” or “never” in writing. There are some basic common sense guidelines, but, other than that, I don’t give the “shoulds” and “musts” of writing much credence. What works for someone else might work for you, or it might not. And, as the masters will tell you, even the most widely touted rules are made (once you have the chops) to be broken.
“Best” practices can quickly close in around you like that proverbial box. At first it seems comfy and cozy – safe, tested, proven. But in the end it winds up limiting your options, shutting down your creativity, and rendering you blind to opportunities that lie on the other side of the walls.
The truth is that the “best” in “best practices” depends entirely on the context – on the box you’re playing in.
YOU make the box
Maybe nobody puts Baby in a corner, but we often put ourselves in a box.
We listen to People Who Know Better and believe everything they say, even when it doesn’t quite ring true for us. We willingly subscribe to their methods and madness, contorting ourselves so we can climb inside their box. Though we might feel cramped or claustrophobic, we tell ourselves that we’ll get used to it. Though we may feel like we’re operating in the dark, we tell ourselves that soon the lights will come on and everything will be clear.
We stay in the box, but we shouldn’t.
Boxes have walls, and as you grow those walls will start to close in. Your view of Blue Sky Possibilities will start to shrink.
Your comfort zone vs. where the magic happens
If you stay too long inside the box, you start to get comfortable and complacent. You begin to distrust the world outside your box. You don’t want to try anything new; you just want to stick with the tried and true things that are already inside your box and within your comfort zone. After all, they are “best” practices – if you keep at them long enough, they are bound to work eventually, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Even if they do work, staying inside the box will likely cause you to miss out on more exciting, more effective, more “you” ways of becoming the writer only you can be. Your comfort zone might not seem so comfortable once you give yourself the chance to climb out of that box, wiggle your bare toes in the grass, inhale the fresh air, and stretch your limbs.
Stepping outside your box means giving yourself the chance to explore all the possibilities, indulge your creative urges, and discover new insights into your own writing process.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Leaving the faux security of the box can be scary at first, but the exhilaration you’ll feel once you realize that you don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules far outweighs any perceived risk. Fear will become excitement. You’ll feel like Julie Andrews spinning giddily through meadows of writing bliss.
Are you stuck in a box that doesn’t quite fit you? What could you do to step outside that box – outside your comfort zone and into the place where magic happens?
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post was adapted from a piece I originally wrote for my Suddenly Marketing blog. Who knew that the same get-out-of-the-box rule would apply to both marketing and writing?