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Beyond the Box

We play off a hackneyed phrase to ruminate on the importance of boxes and old-fashioned creativity.

By Farland Bottoms

I cannot remember who used the phrase “think outside the box.” It sounded novel enough, one of those catchy phrases seminar speakers use to get the attendees to think differently. Similar phrases are common to speakers who want to capture the audience within the first few moments of their presentation.

This particular speaker was addressing a group of agents during one of our state sales congresses. The room was filled with the usual mix of rookies and old hands. Everyone seemed challenged by the admonition, “You want to seek ways to think outside the box.”

Recently I was asked to present the MDRT Minute for our NAIFA–Denver monthly meeting. Somehow this old idea of thinking and boxes returned. It occurred to me that there was only one thing wrong with this whole concept: You still have the box.

How does imagination fit into a nicely shaped area? It does not fit, and it shall never be trapped inside any confine.

The biggest one of all
Boxes are handy things to have. You can store books that have that really great article you will probably never read, and magazines that have another really great article that you want to keep. The problem is that once these things are in a box, you will never see them again. Like the clothes that don’t fit, those ugly ties you’ve had for too long, your old sports equipment, dishes that you don’t use anymore. They all wind up in a box eventually. And once we've marked the boxes, we store them in the biggest box of all—our basement.

Get rid of the thing
There’s a lot to be said for boxes. They can be stacked against one wall in the basement, or they can be used, with some creativity, as room dividers. People like boxes. We seldom throw them away, because we still need something to wrap that special gift.

Instead of thinking outside the box, though, why not get rid of the box altogether? Is it because boxes are where so many reside, accepting whatever morsel is thrown their way? Otherwise, why would someone feel the need to encourage us to think outside the thing?

What happened to imagination?
What is missing from so much of our training literature today is imagination. We are taught how to sell, how to do pre-approach, close the big sale, how to do cold calls, accept rejection and maintain a positive approach throughout the day. In other words, we are taught how to live inside our box. Thinking outside is useful because we can always return to the security of our box.

How does imagination fit into a nicely shaped area? It does not fit, and it shall never be trapped inside any confine. That’s what makes capitalism so very dangerous to certain parts of the world. Artists are often jailed because of their imagination. It is the ability of the human to think independently that makes him or her a threat. Boxes can handle such a threat.

Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, once said, “Thoughts have a higher dwelling place than the visible world, and its skies are not clouded by sensuality. Imagination finds a road to the realm of the gods, and there man can glimpse that which is to be after the soul’s liberation from the world of substance.”

Every man and woman, boy and girl, has the gift of intelligence. It is the intelligence that fuels our imagination. A baby’s curiosity amuses us all, and we at once want to return to the time when our thoughts were not penalized but desired.

Noise pollution
What if we were simply given the tools to help us sell, but then left the rest to our imagination? Stop listening to the radio on the way to work, or even those learning tapes that we use to master new material. Rather, use that precious time to hear what your mind wants you to hear—some idea that has been germinating within, but now needs to be brought to the surface. There are probably countless ideas that have never been heard because they have to fight against all the clatter about us to get our attention.

It was imagination, unfettered by ambient sounds, which created the light bulb, the computer and space travel. Learning just helped us connect the dots that were already within.

Don’t ask why
Because Ted Kennedy spoke these elegant and inspiring words at the funeral of his slain brother, Robert Kennedy, people have though them to be Robert Kennedy’s. They do, however, belong to Robert Frost. “Some people see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I see things as they could be and ask, ‘Why not!’”

Farland Bottoms, Ph.D., CLU, is a financial advisor with Doctors' Financial Group in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and secretary-treasurer of NAIFA–Denver. He may be reached at 800-990-0382 or

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