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When thinking inside the box is a positive thing

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When was the last time you faced your kitchen with limited ingredients, hungry humans (including yourself), and a short timeline to create a meal? On top of this, you’ve got to get kids to an activity within the hour. As if not figuring out dinner was your only dilemma. This has been my life and I know it is the life of many others. In both our personal and professional lives, we are faced with the challenge to come up with creative solutions, often with limited resources and time constraints. And even though our initial reaction might be “that’s impossible,” we surprise ourselves.

What does it mean to think inside the box? It means thoughtfulness, strategy and resourcefulness.

There are TV shows that demonstrate this; my favorites are cooking show competitions. Contestants are asked to create something delicious to a panel of judges with limited ingredients. In our day-to-day life, maybe work calendar has back-to-back meetings with no breaks, but somewhere in there, you manage to fit in a bio break! The “new” assignment has just been sprung upon you amidst your already too-full calendar, and yet you figure it out.

Constraints and challenges cause us to think and be different. Ultimately, they challenge us to grow. It all depends on how we choose to see it.

We are continually being asked to figure out how to accomplish goals under limitations. Sometimes we need to do less with more, other times more with less, and often we feel pressed. Our challenge is to pause and reframe the idea that constraint is a pain, and rather see it as an opportunity to pause and to be thoughtful, strategic and resourceful. Think about times in your life when you have done this and came up with something good. Trust that you can do it again!

Recently in my own work situation, we’ve undergone some staffing changes. The challenge of thinking and behaving differently has caused me to partner with new people to meet goals. I work in talent and our company recently participated in a big event. Like many organizations, we are looking for new ways to implement digital adoption. With our event only days away, we needed to be able to communicate career opportunities to our talent prospects and that usually involved printed material. Given the limited turnaround time and resources, (AKA I didn’t get an order in on time), I had to change strategy. And today those materials are all digital. It isn’t always “EUREKA” or easy, but I’ve decided that pausing and considering other new “opportunity” is better than the alternative paradigm of analysis paralysis.

I am an avid fan of the positive psychology movement, which promotes that each of us brings something unique to the groups that we are part of. The movement says that we don’t have to individually possess every strength and talent that exists. Instead, we need to understand our gifts, talents and strengths and those of others, and then we can create more efficient teams and do better together.

Recently, I was having a difficult time communicating and organizing some of my projects. My manager suggested I reach out to a person on my team who had skills that were different from mine. During our first meeting, I couldn’t believe the sense of relief I felt when I laid out all the stuff I had been working on. In a couple hours, he had sifted through it all and we came out with a strategy and plan. I felt a sense of relief and he was energized by the work. I went from stuck to a new sense of accomplished.

If you are a manager, consider who is on your team and ask yourself if there is someone who you could delegate a task or project to. Perhaps give a stretch assignment and allow your team member to utilize some of the strengths you know they have or that they may not have had the opportunity to use in their present work.

Is there a problem you are trying to solve? Or a work goal you need to achieve? Here are a few steps to consider as you think inside the box:

  • Consider doing a personal strengths inventory. Are there others within your team with strengths or talents that are different than yours that could help accomplish the goal or project?
  • Have a conversation with your manager or HR partner and ask for help to identify resources.
  • Lastly, create a plan and get started. 

It is important to acknowledge when there is a constraint. Without changes or constraints, we would lose the challenge of being able to seek out and utilize other resources “inside the box.” We need to acknowledge, ask and be willing to accept help. Reframe constraint and embrace it as an opportunity to see what else is inside the box.

When we work in healthy teams, there is a good balance of reciprocation. Give freely and receive freely. We work better when we work together.


About Colette Campbell

Colette Campbell is the Director of Talent Acquisition, Diversity and Inclusion for Bremer Bank. Prior to joining Bremer, Colette served as faculty in the disciplines of Business, Human Resources and Human Development. Thirteen years ago, she started a consulting firm that provided coaching, training, and consulting services for many years. She has become known for her dynamic ability to help others create powerful shifts in their own thinking and behavior. Others find her to be enthusiastic, thought-provoking, and innovative in her unique approach to creating significant breakthroughs. She is an expert at finding the strengths within the differences between people and leveraging them to achieve remarkable outcomes. Colette holds degrees in religious studies and counseling, as well as management and leadership and human development. She was raised in Canada by Jamaican-born parents and has lived and/or taught on almost every continent in the world, providing her with a rich world perspective. In 2015, her family moved to Guatemala for a year and if you are a fan of HGTV, she was on an episode of House Hunters International. She lives in St Paul with her husband, three kids, and pet bird.)

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