When you wake up, you’re sleepy. You shower. Problem solved. You’re naked. You select clothes. Problem solved. You’re hungry. You eat. Problem solved. And so on. But if when the alarm goes off and you keep hitting the snooze button, or if you wear yesterday’s clothes, or you forget to eat – you’ve still got problems.  But not you – you’re responsible. You’re a problem solver. Congratulations. 

As a problem solver, you don’t even realize that every time you solve any problem you’re engaged in assessment and resolution. But you are. There’s a reason why when you try to wake up in the morning you don’t jump out of bed, run around the block naked six times banging pots and pans with sparklers coming out of your ears. It’s inefficient and useless. No, you get in the shower. Problem solved. 

This idea of assessment and resolution is highly efficient. Except as it applies to corporate creative problem solving. Let’s say that you really want a certain job. During your interview you call yourself an ‘outside of the box thinker.’ You say this because everyone associates this term with being creative. 

It’s wrong. 

When you think outside of the box, that tells me you’re doing more thinking than necessary. You want to think creatively about something? Build the box first and then think within that. Think from the side of the box. Think from the back corner. Heck, think upside down within the box if you want to. I don’t care. I just care that you’re using your brain power efficiently. If you’re thinking outside of the box, then you’re not focussed enough on the problem that lives inside the box.

The problem with the word problem is that it strikes fear in the hearts of most men. As someone skilled in the dark art of advertising, I’ve grown to love the word problem. When I hear problem, I am absolutely confident that I can solve it. Every time. Regardless of the problem. If I didn’t think that, I may as well be working at a car wash. Or a bank. As cliche as it sounds, every problem is an opportunity to create a solution. But the only way you can solve any problem is to understand it. 

The way to understand a problem is to build a box around it. If you don’t, you’re running around your block naked while banging pots and pans and with sparklers coming out of your ears. And I guess some people might consider such nonsense as being creative, but really it’s just a ridiculous waste of time, energy and brain power. 

If you really want to solve a problem – build a box around it. Make the problem feel right at home. Put some Barbie furniture in there if you want to. Have a sleepover in there. Just get in there and play with it and engage it from every possible angle. Get to know the problem inside out. After all, the only way you defeat an enemy is to know them. 

Inside of the box lives the enemy. You’re the ninja. Go.


Jim Mitchem/@jmitchem


Problem Solving and Thinking Inside the Box
A Routine Day

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.