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Out of Our Minds
Sunday, December 05, 2004 11:42 PM
That Darn Box
Kevin Salwen on Creativity

OK, I've had it. Is there any phrase more tired, more trite and less creative than 'outside the box?' Whenever someone tells me they want 'thinking outside the box' my mind instantly jumps to: 'You, dear sir/madam, have never had an original thought in your life and probably wouldn't recognize one if it bit you in the buns.' I mean, who would ask for something truly original by using an expression that might have been original 4 years ago and has been trod into submission ever since?

Anyone share my annoyance, or better yet: Have nominations for other phrases quite as annoying?


Amanda - 1/15/2005 2:48:18 PM
'Yeah. The small minded people don't get it.
This is my new saying. 'Think out side of the box' to me meens you are smallminded.

I also like 'Why be normal?'
Amanda E. Crook
martin - 12/7/2004 4:04:41 PM
Actually Kevin, there's one I find even more annoying. Granted, it's not readily found in business but it's now so completely used throughout our culture that it could be classified as a blight.

It is...'it's all good'. What began as an inner city bit of slang has moved from teenage wannabees to college educated (perhaps a debatable point) professionals to some in the + 50 set. At least the phrase 'thinking outside the box' supposes that there is in fact a 'box' or thing to consider. 'It's all good' is a hollow, pointless phrase used to nullify the poor soul inquiring into the well being of offending git who uses the phrase. It smacks of affected cool by those who wouldn't know cool if their life depended on it.

To me it joins the pantheon of:

'have a nice day'
'don't worry, be happy'


'thinking outside the box'

Stephanie - 12/7/2004 12:11:40 PM

You a too cool with your word combos and word reuses/replacements/rearrangements
g - 12/6/2004 6:52:13 PM
At risk of over-exposure with a second suggestion... as I'm already in trouble elsewhere on the web for speaking my mine / telling the truth... I suggest 'blogosphere'.

It's not simply the term; I 'object' to the over-rated significance attached thereto.
Julie Landry - 12/6/2004 4:55:15 PM
'Let's take this offline' - It has only 2 fewer syllables than 'let's talk about this later' but gets used to table conversations in more meetings than it should ... and these meetings aren't even Web-based to begin with!
jordana goodstein - 12/6/2004 3:46:19 PM
was wondering, with the magazine if you were doing any type of advertising for companies. If not, could I do a trial run with advertising, or if so, what is the best way to do it. I have lots of 'Life is good' shirts, as well as have put my husband and children in them now as well. I do promotional products and figured I would advertise with stuff I really like myself. Please let me know. Thanks so much,
Jordana R. Goodstein, R.N.
Sue - 12/6/2004 3:33:10 PM
Even worse that 'the box' would be 'my bad'. The worst phrase in history !!!!!!! My bad WHAT????????? You're not bad... you're AWFUL!
Kyle - 12/6/2004 3:23:27 PM
How about these overused advertising slogans?

Got _____? (Milk being the original, but now everything and anything. Probably the most copied ad campaign ever.)

Building tomorrow's ____today.

Ugh. Stale. Dead. Shoot 'em!
Andertoons - 12/6/2004 1:35:48 PM
OK, this whole thing has inspired me to make some brand new business jargon.

I think there are basically three types of catchy phrases:

1) Combinations of words into one word

2) Co-opting other words and their meanings

3) Word replacement in another popular phrase

So let's see...

1) Combinations


Combines 'revenue' and 'revolution' into something that sounds like it's the next big money maker.


Combines 'customer' and 'consumer' into a verb that invokes 'customize'


Combines 'accounting' with the suffix 'matics' to sounds like some sort of in-depth study

2) Co-opting

'Let's hen house this.'

Sounds sorta folksy and seems to imply that we all sit on our prospective projects for a while

'Pong it.'

Let's throw ideas/solutions/whatever back and forth until someone screws up

'That's so Pork & Beans!'

Old-fashioned and kind of icky

3) Word replacement

'Maybe steps'

A series of less than certain small steps forward

'Think outside the jocks'

Look for a smarter, rather than simply more aggressive, solution


Sort of like 'client-based' but would refer to poor management

OK, well I hope you enjoyed these! Now go forth and pong some maybe steps about revenution!
jelly - 12/6/2004 12:29:23 PM
I have to clench my teeth to hold back the reflexive groan I feel welling inside me when I hear 'empower.'
Andertoons - 12/6/2004 12:00:17 PM
I just did a cartoon on this a few days ago...


To be honest, I LOVE phrases like this. The more meaningless business jargon I can make fun of, the better!
Laura Bergells - 12/6/2004 10:56:59 AM
The first time I heard 'out of the box' was in 1992. My manager introduced me to a group of people and said that I was 'an out-of-the-box' thinker.

I had no idea what he meant, so I asked, 'There's a box? What's in the box?' Everybody laughed, my boss beamed and said, 'See?'... but no one answered my question. This made made me feel stupid, since everybody else seemed to know about a box, and I was somehow out of it.

Thanks for the post: now I don't feel so bad. But can someone please tell me what the blazes this phrase is supposed to mean?
Brett - 12/6/2004 10:49:49 AM
Thanks for bringing this up! Whenever someone tells me to 'think outside the box,' I offer to box them outside.
anita - 12/6/2004 7:35:17 AM

Gary - 12/6/2004 7:10:13 AM
It hasn't taken long for everybody to start using this and already it's getting on my nerves.
We had 'raise the bar' for a while. Well, until everyone realised that we had no idea where the bar was and where we wanted to get it to.
g - 12/6/2004 5:33:16 AM
Nominations? Sure.


Instead, try 'guide'.

mike - 12/6/2004 12:12:54 AM

sorry you have to cut and paste, I got this link from seth godins blog. This should give you plenty of over-used expressions.


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