Leader Volume 9, Number 5
Out of The Box
Hanks (Indian Wells, California; phone 760-674-1938; firstname.lastname@example.org;
designs museums and theme parks, creates instructional programs
centered on seeing things in more meaningful ways.
He is the author of Up
Your Productivity (1993) and The
Change Navigator (1994), both published by Crisp Publications,
Menlo Park, CA.
I’ve watched a
company slowly slide itself into insignificance. It once dominated
its industry, but now its impact, as well as its stock, is a
fraction of what it once was. Recently, a new CEO again tried to
implement some much-needed change. One third of the employees were
let go. Millions in new capital were invested. The entire
structure of the company was dramatically altered to improve
productivity and capture new opportunities.
Yet, after the
smoke cleared from all of these activities, and the sound dimmed
from all the motivational talks and buzzwords, nothing fundamental
changed. Behind declarations of dramatic and lasting change,
people in this company still continue with the same habitual
behavior of the past. One manager said, “With all this movement
around here you would think something would actually move around
here!” Everyone in
this company is now deep inside something called The Box.
in the Box
Like the people
in this company, we all get stuck in The Box, frantically
searching over the same ground again and again for a seemingly
obvious solution that is never found. See if any of these examples
• Ann again remarries the same man only this time with a
different face and name.
• After years of failure, the Sanfords try again with their
troubled son who stays troubled.
• Despite the implementation of a variety of successful
programs used in other companies to curb employee theft, the
increase in corporate stealing continues.
• A department won’t live up to its obvious possibilities
even with another change in leadership, improvement in the quality
of teams involved, still more finances, and a move to new offices.
In all the years
I’ve served as a consultant this has been my biggest
problem--getting people to move out of their boxes. Seeing this, I
developed a tool to effectively get people and organizations out
of their boxes and moving forward.
What follows is an introduction to this tool with its three
You are in The Box when a problem causes you to repeatedly and
unsuccessfully search over the same ground for its solution.
remain defiantly free from any solution, all the while soaking up
an enormous amount of time, energy and other resources. When our
solutions don’t work, we say to ourselves, “I must not have
the right solution or it wasn’t implemented correctly.”
So we redouble our efforts running in endless circles. We
are stuck in the box.
The Box is created when similar interactions or exchanges are
governed by a rule that can’t be acknowledged.
and interactions are exchanges, and these exchanges are run by
rules. A governing rule is the over-arching one that directs,
defines, and limits a set of exchanges. When a governing rule
can’t be acknowledged by those people it affects, this generates
a rigid and confining situation of preset exchanges called The
Box. These hidden rules block searching in more fruitful locations
that would produce the most effective solutions.
statements from people in two separate companies that have hidden
rules embedded within them (not hard to see, but are totally
impossible to bring up to their owner’s attention): “We
couldn’t possibly be missing those funds because of theft. The
director is the most honest man I know.” “We must show our
clients our innovative leadership and do all phases of this
showcase project in-house.” Both comments contain hidden and
unacknowledged rules that are restricting the abilities of these
two companies in finding effective resolutions.
Anyone can get out of The Box once they see and accept the
governing rule that created it.
An essential part
of any search for solutions is the hidden governing rule that
invisibly directs the search for solutions. When the usually
invisible governing rule, that is directing the situation, is made
visible, things automatically change. When an individual or group
sees and accepts this formerly hidden rule, they always have a
fundamental shift in perception and thinking. They then move out
of their box.
I know a silly
parlor game where one person goes out of a room full of people.
Those left, collectively, select something in the room. The person
returns to the room and tries to guess what was selected while a
moderator asks the group questions. This pretender always guesses
correctly. The others try to come up with the secret on how the
fake psychic was so uncannily accurate. Nobody comes up with the
answer, which is absurdly obvious. As the moderator asks, “Is it
the piano? Is it the black dog?
How about the vase? The psychic is following a simple
hidden rule: after the first thing the moderator points out that
begins with the letter “B," it is always the very next
thing he points out with a question that is it. I’ve seen
geniuses flounder and fail on this one.
once you know this rule you can never really play this absurd game
again. The same with seeing a formerly hidden governing rule, once
you know and accept what it is, you can’t keep playing the same
way--you can’t stay in the box.
is a method I’ve used to get people to clearly see and to accept
the hidden rules governing their exchanges and move out of The
Box. A visual representation of a person’s or group’s hidden
rules is constructed in front of them. By using quickly made
images, with accompanying notation, and continual input from the
viewers, what is formerly unconscious is now brought into
Let me show you
how this is done. A facilitator puts words and images on a large
white board in front of the group. He becomes their hands, jogs
their minds, calms egos, clarifies, etc. While this process is
happening, the facilitator is erasing, correcting, questioning,
and refining until a final consensus is reached that what they are
viewing is their governing rule. Seeing everything slowly develop
before them, dramatically increases their ownership and acceptance
of what is written on the board.
visualize another’s rules, the facilitator creating the image
must concentrate on reading a consistent pattern behind peoples’
exchanges, then graphically summarizing that pattern. These images
need to reflect to the viewers what they are communicating and
agreeing to. Also, the images are simple and symbolic (using
sophisticated drawings or images can get in the way by hindering
easy participation). Attention is focused on creating this image
or map, not on each other or the facilitator. Visually
represented, everyone can see which rules are dominating their
interactions and exchanges. They can have an understanding of what
has locked them in their box.
I worked with a
lady where we had to manage a number of ongoing projects. I quite
liked her, but she had one habit that kept getting in the way of
us all effectively doing our jobs. She continually brought up the
issue of ‘unfairness’ to women.
She had been poorly treated in the past, had seen other
women have similar problems, and wanted to do something about it.
The problem we
had to accomplish had absolutely nothing to do with this issue.
The time needed in other areas was being spent as a forum to
further her cause. Finally, something had to be done to focus on
the projects at hand. The buck was passed and it ended up on my
written out (only to her) on a whiteboard was all it took. The
first one was, “Have you ever seen me discriminate against a
woman in any manner?” The second one was, “What does
fairness-to-women have to do with finishing these projects?”
Then I left for home. I didn’t need her to literally answer them
for me. Behind these two questions was the rule of a box she was
attempting to put our entire team in. To her credit, everything
I was consulting
for a small company that had been diligently working on the same
problem for months. They had tried everything. “We just
haven’t found the right solution yet,” is what they repeatedly
outsider, I had the advantage. I wasn’t yet tainted by all of
the diligent effort. I could see that the one place that they
hadn’t looked was the over-arching rule that they were following
to resolve the situation. They had looked at everything else too
They were trying
to expand their services, but didn’t have enough money to make
the necessary improvements. The
rule that wasn’t being openly dealt with was that the company
leadership wasn’t giving them the needed cash.
I found myself
drawing concentric circles and stick figures on a couple of large
white boards in the conference room. I visually showed them how
they saw their problem, and their attempted solutions. Then they
collectively saw a solution--they were solving the wrong problem.
Their real problem wasn’t the customer, but their corporate
leadership. Their bosses were not seeing the value in what this
department was attempting to do. They needed to do a sales job on
the higher ups.
head stated that he never saw a meeting get so focused in such a
short time with just a few scribbles and rough notes. He said,
“Your doing this, whatever it is, was instrumental in resolving
a problem that had remained totally immovable. I even watched my
own people come up with effective solutions when, the day before,
they were mentally frozen!”
Mapping can help you get out of your box.