Think Inside the Box

Dear Readers:

Work smart, not hard. Think outside the box. These are catchy and attractive phrases used by motivational speakers and management consultants to inspire persons to work efficiently and think creatively. However, such messages can have unintended consequences for some businesses if they adopted by inexperienced employees.

“Work smart, not hard” is a concept that describes how individual tasks can be performed more efficiently. It encouraged employees to save time by planning their work and organizing their work environment. Unfortunately, if this phrase is not correctly explained, then motivating employees not to work hard can reinforce the notion of cleverly working with less effort for the same or more pay. Employees should be encouraged to work diligently and intelligently, and management at various levels are responsible for providing the necessary tools and training to allow employees to work intelligently.

Management is not correctly assessing an employee who is working hard, but who is reported as being unproductive. Hard working employees not only facilitate their own personal development, but should also be a benefit to the companies that they work for if they are properly managed. On the other hand, employees who work smart and not hard are more vulnerable to becoming lazy and unproductive, which can lead to higher input costs and hence uncompetitively priced products or services. A hard working, properly managed, and fairly paid employee, who is given sufficient health and safety breaks, should lead to the efficient delivery of a product of service.

To avoid confusion with subjectively defining terms like “smart” and “hard”, perhaps the “Work smart, not hard” expression could be replaced with a phrase that does not lend itself to misinterpretation, like “Work efficiently”. However, it is not as catchy.

“Think outside the box” is a concept that describes creative thinking. It encourages persons to think beyond established procedures and standards, and to question preconceived assumptions when trying to find solutions to problems. This concept basically describes how experienced persons generally solve non-conventional problems. For example, a manual should be referenced when problems are encountered with a product. However, if the manual contained insufficient information to solve the problem, then an experienced employee should be able to improvise a solution.

The prerequisite for thinking outside of the box should therefore be a mastery of the information already in the box. Having that prior knowledge should assist employees to recognize whether they need to venture outside of the box to solve a problem. In the delivery of most professional services, going beyond the established standards and procedures can have severe repercussions. In the delivery of construction and medical services, such consequences can be fatal.

Inexperienced persons should therefore be encouraged to think inside the box. When inexperienced persons think outside of the box, much effort can be wasted if they attempt to reinvent the proverbial wheel. The adoption of the “Work smart, not hard”, and “Think outside the box” messages by influential persons with limited experience can have more damaging consequences.

Persons with limited experience should therefore be encouraged to work hard and smart, and to fill their boxes with relevant information. They should not be encouraged to think out side the box until they have obtained sufficient practical experience where they can demonstrate their understanding of such information. Employers who expose inexperienced employees to improperly explained phrases from motivational speakers and management consultants, are essentially paying such speakers to motivate their employees to disrupt their businesses.

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