Skillsoft Blog

Think Inside the Box: Freedom Within a Framework

By Dan Coughlin

Dan works with leaders in business, health care and education to improve results in a sustainable way by impacting teamwork, execution, innovation and branding in their organizations. He is the author of the book, The Business Leader’s Impact: five critical drivers of sustainable profitable growth.

A lot of people talk about thinking outside the box. I want you to think inside the box.

Imagine two boxes, one quite large and the other rather small. The small box is inside the big box. In the large box is everything that you are capable of doing. Inside the small box are the few things you can do that you believe will have the greatest positive impact on improving your most important desired business outcome.

Stay Inside the Small Box

Too often, in my opinion, people allow themselves to be pulled into all kinds of activities because they are able to do them. Weeks, months, and even years fly by while these people are busy doing all sorts of different things that they are able to do. They go home quite exhausted at the end of each day knowing that they worked hard. The problem is they haven’t penetrated the desired results to anywhere near the degree that they could have. They essentially tried to please people in different departments and different customers and different prospective customers and different volunteer groups. They kept moving all around in the big box.

Rather than allowing yourself to fill up your day doing everything you are capable of doing, I encourage you to stay very disciplined about choosing at most four things you can do that will have the greatest positive impact on improving results and not allowing yourself to be pulled into two dozen different activities just because you are able to do them.

Staying inside the small box might mean you actually have a few hours each day where you are not racing off to put out the latest fire or to have lunch with a customer that you just talked with last week. It might mean that you actually slow down, relax your brain, go for long walks, and work fewer hours. However, in those fewer hours, your efforts and your activities will be concentrated on improving a specific outcome or two.

There is still plenty of room for freedom inside the small box. You can figure out ways to do these few activities better. You might find ways to combine two of the activities together so they have an even greater impact. You might even decide to stop doing one of these four things and start doing one new thing. What you’re not going to do though is allow 12 different activities into the small box. That’s why I call this “freedom in a framework.” The framework is the small box, the choosing of at most four activities that you are going to focus on doing as well as you can.

You can be an innovator in the small box. You don’t always have to do what you have done in the past. You can direct your four activities toward creating more appropriate value for your customers. The folks at Apple innovated to an extraordinarily high degree in creating their magical devices, but they did it by operating inside a small box.

Get the MP3 recording of this and the rest of the article here:

As a keynote speaker and seminar leader from Maui to Budapest and everywhere in between, Dan Coughlin is a pragmatic business teacher who combines real-life stories from his management consulting work with in-depth research of the audience. 

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