Now that is thinking outside the box

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Now that is thinking outside the box

WHAT ever happened to the notion of ‘thinking outside the box’? Five years ago, in the middle of the recession, we were all given to understand that if we didn’t start thinking outside the box pronto, we’d be doomed.

I was inclined to think back then that we were doomed anyway, but somebody must have managed to get out of the box. I think it was Enda Kenny, but he’s not getting any credit for it, because most of the Dublin media still can’t join the nine proverbial dots with just four straight lines.

They’re mean to Enda, because he doesn’t conform to their ideal or, worse still, he won’t get out of the way while they gather their thoughts. Maybe the solution to their problem lies inside the box. All I can say is, good thinking, Enda!

The rest of us had no idea what thinking outside the box entailed. We didn’t even know how to go about it, so programmed had we become from a variety of factors including the education system and the 700 years of slavery.

We were told to practice the ‘nine dots’, take a shower when we couldn’t solve a tricky problem, or ask a four year old for his perspective if we were really stuck. Better still, we could sit down and write a poem about it to release the creative juices and come up with a novel solution. Easier said than done! We didn’t know that the nine dots actually constituted a box and that we’d have to go outside the box to join them up with the requisite four lines. Also most of us couldn’t write a poem if it was to save our lives. Education Minister at the time, Ruairi Quinn, promised a new approach to education that would enable us all to think outside the box. He duly went outside the box, and the country, and copied what educators had been doing across the water, thereby giving a whole new meaning to the cliché.

Anyhow, ‘thinking outside the box’, which became the buzz phrase of the depression, is now, it seems, old hat. The new Junior Cert English paper, for example, provides only boxed-in spaces for answers. If a student thinks outside of that, he or she must request more paper, which is a damning indication that they can’t give a concise answer to the question. Thinking outside the box is dangerous if you want to get enough points for Medicine.

Even the prancers in RTE’s tiresomely imitative ‘Dancing with the Stars’ couldn’t even bring themselves to step outside the box – and still the nation lapped it up.

Official forms too have more boxes now than ever, all of which must be ticked, or you’ll be told to do it again or lose your old age pension and your medical card. Don’t even think of going outside the box and presuming that when you ticked ‘no’ to the main question, the logical conclusion is that you were automatically saying ‘no’ to all of the sub headings as well. What is it about ‘no’ that they don’t understand?

But you know what? I never liked the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’, even though I think I was quite good at it in my own long ago school days. Unfortunately, every time I tried to think laterally or give a new perspective on things from a last minute panic-stricken stream of consciousness, I was told that I was ‘away with the fairies’ – which was a really damning indictment, as well as a sure sign that I hadn’t even planned out my essay or my answer, as the case may have been. Thank Heavens, I’m not sitting the new Junior Cert English now: sure as God, I’d fail dismally, but not as badly, perhaps, as James Joyce.

I wouldn’t mind, only the notion of ‘thinking outside the box’, which I thought was introduced to Ireland by the multinationals during the throes of the recession, and around the same time as we became acquainted with ‘mindfulness’, was in fact invented long before that – back in 1914, according to Wiki. But nobody told us about it. Fifty years ago it had already become a much used cliché among management consultants seeking new approaches to persistent problems and trying to squeeze even more productivity from an exhausted workforce. If my calculations are correct, this was around the time I was away with the fairies. Who knows, if I had played my hand properly, I might have been snapped up.

As it was, I just lost whatever ability I had to ‘think outside the box’, but sadly I never really developed a logical mind either, to compensate for the loss. Thinking outside the box is simple, actually. Communications Minister, Denis Naughton, was doubtlessly doing it when he came up with his plan the other day to extend the TV license fee to laptops and large tablets, in order to raise more cash for the floundering RTE. This, of course was a no-brainer, seeing that one in ten of us no longer owns a TV set and we still manage to get all our RTE news and entertainment fodder from electronic devices. Some people are even using their phones to watch TV, but these I believe are to be exempt.

Well, here’s another bit of lateral thinking for Mr Naughton to consider. How is he going to enforce this new law, and how is he going to figure out how many of us laptop owners without a box in the corner, would even waste our time watching anything, anymore, on RTE?

Finally, how is he going to find the gall to impose a laptop TV license fee when we don’t even have proper broadband services in vast areas of rural Ireland?

Look Minister, forget about thinking outside the telly box. Just join up the nine dots and tell RTE to up its act and make a better fist of balancing its own unwieldy budget.