Want to Think Outside the Box? Start With a Box

Want to Think Outside the Box? Start With a Box

Quinn McDowell 4 min read

Warm Up

“Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box”

—Twyla Tharp, choreographer

Dynamic leadership requires original ideas, out of the box thinking, and creativity. But before you can begin to think outside the box, you have to learn to start with a “box.” In other words, in order for you to reach your creative potential as a leader you must create an organizational scaffolding that will preserve, categorize, and give you the freedom to do your best creative work.


Creativity is rarely associated with concepts like “organization,” “structure,” and “logistics.” But the most creative leaders make a commitment to ground their creativity in an organizational system that unleashes them to do their best work.

Twyla Tharp is one of the most well-respected choreographers (and creative minds) of the twentieth century. Here’s what she had to say about how her organizational system (i.e. a “box”) supports her creative processes:

“The box makes me feel organized...it represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work. The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting.”

The quality of how you organize your creative process will have a strong effect on your performance as a leader because your best ideas might get lost, forgotten, or pushed aside in the shuffle of your day-to-day work. In contrast, when you are able to firmly plant your creative process in an organizational strategy that aligns with your mission and vision as a leader, you will you see your creative output soar to new levels.

The bottom line is that, a leader’s commitment to having a repeatable, reliable, and consistent organizational strategy will ultimately have a tremendous effect on the quality of their ideas, vision-casting, and originality. Here are three specific benefits that finding your own “box” will give you today:

The box gives you soil

The foundation of your creative process is always rooted in its organizational structure. It gives your work permanence and meaning. It allows you to develop and maintain the foundation of your creative process and gives you the fertile ground to grow your craft. It impels you to diligently cultivate your ideas so that you are able to communicate what is important in a concise and meaningful way.

The box gives you confidence

One of the biggest worries of leaders engaged in creative pursuits is the fear that ideas will be lost, misplaced, or forgotten. When you start with a “Box” those fears quickly dissipate because you know that your most creative ideas will never get lost. You have the confidence that regardless of when you start or stop a project, that your material will be waiting for you if and when you decide to return.

The box gives you freedom

Dynamic creativity requires the ability to think freely and clearly. Your “Box” unleashes you to pursue creative ideas and projects because you know you will always have a safe place to land. Your organizational system is a safe place because it gives you a catalogue of your ideas, it systematizes your thoughts in a way that allows you to expand and push your creative limits.


Finding Your Box

  1. List five different systems that you could potentially use to organize your creative process
    Ex. Manilla Folders, Google Docs, Legal Pad, Three-Ring Binders, Evernote, Trello,
  2. List three categories that are most crucial to your creative process at work
    Ex. Team Culture, Half-Court sets, Coaching Philosophies
  3. Pick your own “box” and write down reasons why it will help boost your creativity

Ex: Three Ring Binders

  • It lets me keep material chronologically which helps me see where our team has been in the past so we know where we want to go in the future
  • It is easy to carry on the road which gives me easy access to review old notes and ideas during our down time
  • I can easily categorized a three ring binder which helps me organize my thoughts and gives me quick access to a particular category that I want to review
  • It will preserve important information from each season which will help me grow as a coach over the course of many years