Dispatches from the Field

Think Out-of-the-Box

Innovation–Thinking Out-of-the-Box

Often in business, as in life, we are presented with problems–I like to call them challenges–that do not present an obvious solution. There is no off-the-shelf solution readily available.

Herein lies opportunity.

We have the opportunity to come up with a novel idea or approach to solve a new problem. Sometimes it may start out as a hack, but it can often turn into a new service or product.

We just have to be open to thinking out-of-the-box.

To illustrate, let me tell you a real-life story of a time when I had to come up with a hack and think out-of-the-box to solve a problem with no obvious solution.

Years ago, just after I started my web design business, I was living life pretty lean. A 99-cent can of chili with rice as an extender for dinner kind of lean.

One afternoon, I was driving my future wife, Nan to a doctor’s appointment when we suddenly heard this horrible grinding, grating sound coming from the front of my aging Dodge Intrepid.

Luckily, we were only a block or two away from the doctor’s office, so we didn’t have to go too far to pull the car into the office parking lot.

Upon getting out to check out what the heck was wrong, I immediately saw that the left side of the front bumper had completely detached from the car and had been dragging along the pavement. Hence the grinding, grating sound.

Problem identified.

OK, so here I am with an essentially undrivable car, in its current state, and no money to have it towed to a repair shop and fixed. What to do?

I told Nan to go inside for her appointment and I’d figure something out. However, at that point, I had no idea what to do.

Let’s think out of the box.

I opened my notoriously cluttered and junk-filled trunk for inspiration. Digging through the contents of the trunk I found a spiral-bound notebook and a pair of pliers. Necessity is the mother of invention they say, and out-of-the-box thinking was the order of the day.

Fact #1: The “spiral” in a spiral-bound notebook is made of wire.
Fact #2: At the base of the pivot point on a pair of pliers is a wire cutter.

Solution: With the pliers, I pull the spiral wire from the notebook and straightened it out into a long piece of wire. I then went back to the bumper and found the hole where the mounting bracket had broken loose. Looping the wire through the hole, I twisted a tight knot with the pliers to keep it in place and ran the other end of the wire through the corresponding hole in the car body. I pulled the wire tight, pulling the bumper back in place. With a tight twist of the wire and a quick snip of the wire with the pliers for tidiness, I was back in business.

Problem solved.

Now admittedly, this was clearly a hack, but I was kind of proud of myself. When Nan came out, she couldn’t believe I had fixed the bumper with a spiral notebook and a pair of pliers. Since then, she has jokingly referred to me as her “MacGyver.”

For those unfamiliar, MacGyver is a TV character who has been described as having “an extraordinary knack for unconventional problem-solving.”


  • Not all the problems we face have a previously prescribed solution.
  • Sometimes, if we are willing to think out-of-the-box, we can innovate and find a solution no one has thought of before.
  • Solving a problem no one has found a solution for is a recipe for OPPORTUNITY!

Now go out there and discover your inner “MacGyver” and do something REMARKABLE.

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