How to think through boxes

This piece extends from Without-The-Box Thinking and unpacks a second-step, How to think through boxes.

You are best served reading that piece first.  


As I always say – “All advice is bad advice”. All that changes is the degree to which advice is bad. Because, no matter how wise or without-the-box the thinker you receive advice from, no one is you. 


Therefore no one can ever give you advice that is absolutely perfect – they will always be giving you some form of box.  


Even Without-The-Box Thinking is bad advice, for it is a box itself. 


Welcome to the Matrix! The irony of Without-The-Box Thinking is that it is a box itself. It makes most sense to me, because it is the box I use to think about this problem of finding original ideas that are not weighed down by outdated assumptions. 


It is impossible to think completely without boxes – for example, right now, I look outside and see the sun, and assume it is providing heat and light to sustain life. This is what we have always believed. 


But there could be a complicated alternative that we don’t understand yet. Perhaps invisible beings travel to the sun and extract its heat, then fly through space delivering it to earth. 


I don’t test my assumptions about the sun on a daily basis – the mental energy to do this would be hugely costly. I am using a box of thinking most of the time when I think about the sun. 


Shape your boxes as much as possible, by starting Without-The-Box and Narrowing in.


As much as possible, we don’t want to start thinking inside boxes. We want to take a step back, use the Without-The-Box questions, and then build our own boxes. 


Boxes with dotted lines

Some boxes are very small and narrow, others are larger, but the ideal boxes have dotted lines. They are not closed-loop. Closed-loop means they are closed-off to feedback and failure. 


For example, a scientist who has spent thirty years saying the world is flat can’t easily admit to themselves the possibility they are wrong, if they have made documentaries, hammered the point in debates, published books on this belief, and invested their whole career and self-esteem in a belief on one conversation. 


The more they identify with this position, the more closed-loop they become – making themselves immune to failure to preserve their status, they carry a box longer than it serves them. 




Open-loop on the other hand is being open to new ideas, allowing failure and feedback to enter your box and improve it over time. 

For example, I will readily listen and process bad advice on how the sun really works, or the shape of the earth. Just because the majority believe one thing, does not make the thing right. 


Galileo Galilei learnt that the hard way and the box-thinkers of his time in the Church condemned him to house arrest for it. Such is the joy of being the innovative minority. 


Select your boxes, and rely little on others to shape your boxes for you. 


After all, all advice is bad advice. Even what you just read. 


Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone you know? Why wouldn’t you share it with them? 


Remember, the best way to open a thousand doors for you is to open doors for others.

With Joe Wehbe – The Podcast

Stream podcast now.

Sign Up for Conversations That Matter.

A powerful new idea is delivered to your inbox every other day, and then you join the conversation.

    Leave a comment

    You don't have permission to register