"Think outside the box"
"I don't like being placed in a box."
"Don't get boxed in."
These are common sentiments, often heard. Being in a box is bad. Restrictive. Repressive.
Life is better outside the confines of boxes.
Chris Brogan begs to differ. He says getting into a box is good. In fact, it can liberate you rather than imprison. Embracing boxes can give you and your ambitions wings.
In this week's episode of Business Jazz, we talk about using boxes to your advantage.
To hear the podcast, just click on the play button on the embedded player at the top of this post. We're also in iTunes. We'd love it if you subscribed.
You can download this week's episode of the podcast directly here: Business Jazz 23rd November 2012.
Invite Chris into your inbox
If you'd like to subscribe to Chris' emails yourself (the ones we discuss here), you'll find a place to sign up on his website. If you're interested in The Impact Equation, the book he recently published with Julien Smith, you can find it on Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Business Jazz Players - We welcome David Bailey MBE
This podcast is a collaboration of people dotted around the world.
We have a new player. David Bailey MBE. David lives in Bosnia and writes about his experiences here: David Bailey's blog. David contacted us about placing the podcast in a regular slot on Belgrade Life - an internet-based radio station. Would we be interested?
Of course we were.
Our first broadcast was on Wednesday at 4pm GMT. We all missed it due to various diary screw ups.
Nevertheless, we're all hugely appreciative of David's invitation and we count him among our growing band.
If you'd like to read our complete story so far, you'll find it here: Our Story.
This week, we missed a beat.
We have been left speechless by the effort of Nick Holloway, who has transcribed this episode of the podcast.
You can read it after the jump:
Business Jazz 23.11.2012
Welcome to Business Jazz with Paul O'Mahony and Roger Overall.
The podcast about how to be genuinely attractive in business today.
Paul: I'm pulling up a cup of tea in Black Rock Castle. I'm here with Roger Overall and welcome to Business Jazz podcast. Roger, you're leaving me to start things off this week, is that correct?
Roger: I am, it's your turn.
Paul: Say who you are.
Roger: My name is Roger Overall and I'm a digital storyteller.
Poor: And my name is Paul O'Mahony and I come from a company called Change Agents. The reason I come from a company called Change Agents is that I am a change agent. This podcast is all about change, isn't it?
Roger: It is.
Paul: How to be genuinely attractive in business today.
Paul: That involves changing customs, practices, habits, culture. I mean what's the point of doing this if it isn't about change, Roger?
Roger: Well, I think if we're not influencing people, and we're not helping them go through change… and a change can be as simple as achieving your goals, getting from where you are to where you want to be is a change.
Paul: So, let's make change happen let's be useful and helpful to people, let's provide them with a service Roger. That's why we're here.
Roger: Let's do that.
Paul: You're looking at your iPad here and you're looking at an email Chris Brogan sent out on Sunday. It arrived into my in tray at two minutes past nine, as it does for some weird reason, on Sunday morning.
Roger: Well, I'm disappointed you get yours 25 minutes before I get mine. That's favouritism that is! Does Chris Brogan have favourite subscribers?
Paul: This whole email began with Chris Brogan talking about Lego.
Roger: Well, he uses Lego as an example and actually there's an interesting thing, I don't know if people have seen the progression in Lego? When I was a little boy Lego was bricks, just small bricks, and they came in a set number of shapes, and it was your imagination that turned them into whatever. But these days there is very little imagination involved because you get a kit, and the kit is put together. So, you get a Star Wars kit, so you can put together something from Star Wars. When we saw Star Wars in 1977 we used Lego to make what we saw, but of course it wasn't perfect because we were building these bricks. These days it comes in a pre-set pack. Now, Chris says that's a good thing because that helps people achieve things, your choice is limited. I'm less sure about that
Paul: This is a challenging email because as you've just indicated you're not sure about it, so your first reaction was "this line of thinking I'm not sure I like it". So, Chris Brogan is actually, in this very nice, very human way, he's actually going to set out to change the way you think about being within a box. We've all been told we have got to get out of the box, think outside the box. Now, here we have this week Chris Brogan saying, "think inside the box".
Roger: To add to your point there, when you ask, for instance, photographers, "What kind of photographer are you?", a lot of them will say "Oh, I don't like to be put in a box, I don't like to be put in a category, I don't like to be, almost, restricted". But actually, here's the thing, if you put yourself in a box, if you put something in a box, it does give you focus, and I think that's something that Chris touches upon in his email. If you say "I am this kind of photographer", then that's the work you do, it's also easy to get your message across but I think it also gives direction. So, sometimes, I agree it can be good to get in a box.
Paul: Lego used to come without a box, if you like, in a box but without any direction or any instructions on what to do with it, how to make something, you were able to invent your own objects. It moved on later because they realised they could provide an additional service to people by giving them a plan for what they could do. But I know kids who've bought, let's say, the Batman Lego kit and they've amalgamated with the garage kit, or the space kit, and they then show me stuff which is a bit of this added to a bit of that added to a bit of the other, and it's different. So, I would contend that being in a box only provides you with something that you can link with other boxes and that you can amalgamate two boxes together and make a new box that was invented only by you.
Roger: I think that latter bit "that was invented only by you" is very significant because even in my day, we got Lego, there were no rules, you could make anything, you were still actually really limited in what you made because you're bringing your experience to the Lego. So, it's not like you're bringing everything, as a little boy you have certain interests, and those are the boxes, if you like, that you bring to the Lego, and you put the Lego in the box. I think the interesting thing you're saying there is children, in essence, don't care about these boxes that have been given to them, they're very free thinking. In my day, I'll take things from outside the box and I'll create this thing from Lego to represent what I want to, and these days children are saying "Well, thank you very much for the box and the rules that come with the box, but you know what? I'm going to amalgamate Batman and the garage, not necessarily because the Batmobile needs an oil change, but because I can do crazy things with it", because a child's imagination just takes off. I like that concept you've just sketched there of putting boxes together.
Paul: This reminds me of Caravaggio, and this reminds me of many of the great, great painters in history and many of them began their life as apprentices to other painters. So, while they were apprentices of their master they learnt to paint, they were in a box, they learnt the formula, they followed the plans designed by somebody else. Did that mean that they were incapable of becoming themselves? Absolutely not. It provided them with a basis for learning certain skills which they were then able to take into a different box which was their own. I cook, I love to cook food, and I took it very seriously, I don't do as much as I used to do, but I took it very seriously. But I use cookery books nowadays and I'm actually at my most creative when I try to replicate a dish that somebody else has designed and told me what I should do. The reason for this is, give me a load of ingredients and I'll put together a dish that is not a problem for me, I do it, it's my comfort zone, I get out of my comfort zone when I go into a box that says "here is the recipe", then I start to do things with the food that I haven't thought of and that aren't from within my existing frame of reference. I think it is helpful to actually practice a particular skill in a particular way, with rules, regulations, boundaries, discipline- just do it, and then see what happens
Roger: And that's really the progression because, you ask the question there, once having learnt all the rules and the regulations and the hows and the techniques, can painters become individuals and develop their own style and their own expression? Well, they have to, because otherwise painting would still be the same as it was 300 years ago, now. In fact it would never have been invented because nobody would have ever actually ever thought about creating a new box that would have created painting the way it was to start with. I think having almost a comfort zone of rules allows you, once you've mastered the rules, to start playing with the rules and expanding the box and adding to the box, which is really what children do, in that example that you gave. I'm now going to stick Batman's head on the nurse's body for a bit of fun! Then we have a cowled nurse going round the hospital, or maybe a super nurse whose healing these people, I don't know.
Paul: Hey, you've just invented a new children's comic, you realise? SUPER NURSE!
Roger: BAT NURSE!
Paul: BAT NURSE! You just invented a new character, you just get a bit of slime, wrap a particular nurse in it and she'll emerge out of the chrysalis of the slime as BAT NURSE! SUPER BAT NURSE!
Roger: SUPER BAT NURSE! What have we just done? We've taken a box and we've added onto this box a new genre of superhero.
Paul: Let's talk about Moleskin for a second. I want to quote from Chris Brogan, this is one of the early paragraphs in the email, after talking about Star Wars, after talking about Batman and Lego, he says "This is why Moleskin sells both blank journals plus travel journals. You can obviously use a blank journal to record your travel but if the journal says travel on the outside, you've been given a box to stay within". So, I go into the shop and I'm going to go on holidays and I want a Moleskin notebook to take with me and I've been used to having Moleskin notebooks that have just plain line, nothing on the cover, but I'm going on a holiday and Moleskin provide me with an identical notebook to the one I want but this one is branded with the word "Travel" on the outside. I immediately breathe a sigh of relief that says, "Oh good, they've actually thought of me and my need, so good for Moleskin, I'll use the one saying travel". Inside it's identical with the one that says "Plain Moleskin Notebook" but Moleskin have given me a box.
Roger: Can you not make the box yourself and just buy the regular one and stick a sticker on the front?
Paul: I could, but you know what? Moleskin are helping me, Moleskin have also got a notebook that says, here's your wine journal, now they put extra things into it to enable me to say it's a wine journal. And they also put some extra things into the travel journal, now Moleskin one of the greatest companies in the world, one of the greatest designs ever invented, in my opinion, it's the most wonderfully rolled out brand, they've got products for a number of different things. When I first came across Moleskin doing additional notebooks to the bog standard, core, brilliant notebook that they do, the one I valued so much, and I have volumes in my library at home, I've 20 or 30 of 40 of these Moleskin notebooks, the point about it is they now have gone down the road of giving me one for travel, giving me one for genealogies, giving me one for this and that, and it is helpful extension of the idea.
Paul: Right, the second chapter within the podcast this week moves on from this idea about Batman and Lego and Moleskin, to some very real practical things about how to use boxes to help you structure your thinking.
Roger: Well, Chris provides what he calls the anatomy of a project and I think many people listening to this may have an idea that they want to do a project similar to this, write an ebook, but as a big project that can be a little bit daunting. What he does here in his little anatomy of a project is he breaks down into boxes.
Paul: Into boxes, okay.
Roger: So, for instance, he starts with some presumptions, or guesses, or outlines. How many pages? Say the book is going to be 100 pages, what are the main concepts? Well those main concepts could very will break down into chapters, so you may have 10 concepts, therefore you may have 10 chapters. So, already you have 100 pages divided into 10 concepts, so that's 10 pages per chapter, so you could say chapter is a box. Suddenly your book of 100 pages, one big box, has been broken down into 10 smaller boxes. But you can go further than that really, because you can also then start looking at goals. How do you achieve the actual finished product? For example how many words should the book be? It could be 50,000, 25,000, however many you want it to be. How many can you write in a day? Now, Chris says he can write 4000 on average a day. Now, that's a lot of writing, but then he's a skilled writer, he's a practised writer.
Paul: That is 400 words per hour.
Roger: Which is fine if you not doing anything else with your life other than writing.
Paul: Okay, but if you work on then from, let's make this manageable, this is a day's work, a days work, you produce 4000 words. I know many authors who produce an awful lot less than that in a day and some who produce a lot more, but when you break it down per hour, divide the 4000 by 10 hours work in a day, and you get 400, right you divide that by 60 and you get so many a minute, and you find that he probably only has to produce, what is it, you can do the maths better than me, perhaps, let's say, he only has to write seven words a minute. Seven words a minute is achievable. I remember when I tried to write 50,000 words during the month of November for NaNoWriMo and loads of people were still labouring away really hard to finish off their 50,000 words during this month of November. But if you break it down to how many words you need to write per minute, it becomes an awful lot easier to start writing
Roger: It does, but I do think that kind of analogy can be a little bit dangerous. I mean, if I were to say to you, you're going to walk 48 miles and you're going to walk a mile and hour for 48 consecutive miles, that's only a few steps per minute, but actually to complete in that way would drive you nuts, you know to do 48 miles in 48 hours consecutively.
Paul: But it might be started, you see, the point is this is all about getting started, you see if I say to myself all you've got to do in the next minute Paul is walk the first 100 yards, right? So, I say, okay, I'll do that. The thing that stops us all from doing something is the thought about the immensity of the project, right? So if I say, okay, here's the day, it's now eight o'clock in the morning, God, it's impossible to think how I'd walk 48 miles today, so the first thing is, in the first minute I walk 100 yards, right? The walking of the first hundred yards helps me to walk the next 100 yards. I then can say all I need to do in the next hour is walk 2 miles. I then walk more than 2 miles in the next hour, I get a real release of endorphins into my brain, I'm feeling good about myself, before I know it I'm having the same experience of people having the gym every day.
Roger: That's an important thing, I think if you hit on another issue here, and that is the feeling good about what you're doing, because a lot of people may be daunted by the number of words involved in writing a book, and breaking it down into bite-size pieces that you can manage, a daily quota that is very achievable for you, is one thing. But then what a lot of people do is they get bound up, and Seth Godin recently wrote about this, they get bound up in the idea that it's not good enough, and that can be a killer as well. So, yes, by putting things into boxes and helping people achieve that number is very, very, very good, but what they mustn't do is stop to read too much what they're writing, because I think that will put people off as well, do your editing at the end. Once the box is full, do your editing, not while you're filling the box.
Paul: Can we go back to Chris's example, because I do think we would be providing a service to people if we take people through precisely his example.
Roger: So, he's saying that your book could be 100 pages, we have now broken down into 10 concepts, so 10 chapters of 10 pages…
Paul: That's a box, right? So, I'm writing 100 pages with 10 chapters.
Roger: So, he is reckoning on about 250 words per page, okay? So, I think he has worked that out to be 25,000 words, for the hundred page book. So, if you're writing an average of 4000 words a day, now he's talking about writing a book with somebody else, but we'll just say, if you were doing it on your own, you're going to get that book finished in two weeks.
Paul: So, you can write 12,500 words, if you're writing 4000 words a day, you can write the book in three days, in three days, right? You can produce an e-book in three days.
Roger: Or, if you got at a slower pace, you can write it in six days.
Paul: Okay, but we're deftintely talking about this now, we're now beginning to feel, bloody hell, this is manageable, I could actually get an e-book out. You've often thought about producing e-books, haven't you?
Roger: I'm working on one.
Paul: Read out the email you sent to Chris Brogan.
Roger: "Dear Chris, do you live in my head? How could you otherwise deliver an email that so perfectly provides answers to questions I woke up with? Because I'm in the middle of plotting an e-book that needs to be finished in two weeks time."
Paul: Now, look, that's one set of boxes, right? That's about getting the work done. The next box is all about stuff like, who will buy the book? Who do I know that knows them? What form will the ebook take? What will we price it? We need boxes for each of these.
Roger: And in turn those boxes get divided into more boxes again. He takes the point of, "What will we price it?". We could price it high, we could price it low, but if I price it high then that leads to another set of considerations, or price it even higher and bundle it together with another quality service offering. There's lots of different things that then come into play, because when you start thinking about what I going to put into this box, it immediately almost leads you to subdivide the box again.
Paul: You and I will walking the other night and you pulled out your iPhone while we were walking and you said we we're going to mind map this project. Now, I think there's a great similarity between you saying that to me, we're going to mind map, and what Chris Brogan is doing. He is using the work, the language of boxes, right? So, you have a box which says ""Wo will buy it?" That's a whole train of thought, all the questions about who will buy it. Then you get another box that says "Who knows those people?" Because they're the people who will buy it, but I have to still reach them, that's my marketing plan, who do I know that knows them? Might be I know the newspaper, and the newspaper knows them, because they buy the newspaper every day, therefore I put an ad in in the newspaper, and that's a particular way of doing it. It could be that I literally send a Tweet to somebody, that person will tell all of their followers, and that gets to exactly who I want. So, which ever way you do it, this is mind mapping, isn't it Roger?
Roger: It is, and it's very interesting you say that, because Chris put out an Instagram not so very long ago, which I responded to. In the photograph he shows what a course looks like at its early conception phase for him, and he has a page with boxes on it. I responded back to him, saying "I'm very curious about your thought process, your creative process. Do you use mind mapping?" And of course, this is exactly a way of…
Paul: Did he answer you?
Roger: I don't think so.
Paul: No, he probably doesn't... I would imagine Chris Brogan gets loads of people asking him questions. Now, he knows full well that if he were to say, "Yes, I use mind mapping", some people are going to go off copying Chris Brogan. It's an interesting question about "Will I use boxes or will I use mind mapping?"
Roger: Well, I think mind mapping uses boxes anyway. A mind map is, you start with a central concept, you draw lines, often new boxes which are related concepts, and you draw lines off those and you build almost a tree, or a fungus with spores. So, I think this is a form of mind mapping, most definitely, because it brings clarity, it's a form of planning, not only does it reduce your project down to bite-size steps, but it makes you think about other things. Your project develops tentacles in all directions, now whether you follow up on all these tentacles is entirely up to you, they may not be relevant, they may actually lead you to totally different projects which you then have to hive off, but nevertheless you'll have a visualisation and a lot of people find it very useful. You have a visualisation of what your project is going to look like and how you going to get there.
Paul: I've started one here, you know, just to try this out for this box idea. I put a big box at the top of the page which says "Reading 'The Impact Equation' together in Cork", right? I'm not going to go into details. Then I put another box here underneath it called "Shape", another box that says "Who'll be there?", And another box saying, "What we'll eat?". As you know, there are people coming along after we've recorded this podcast with whom we're going to do some work and this whole idea of actually, let's get a number of boxes so we can think within each of those boxes, I'm going to use what Chris Brogan has given in this week's email, I'm going to use it.
Roger: I think it will be very useful because is going to be four people, we have around about an hour to get this done, so we're going to need some kind of structure. I think therein lies another gift from Chris this week, here is something that you can use to actually get the planning process sorted out. How often do we sit there planning and we're staring off into space? Well, he's actually given you a tool to stop you staring off into space, write it down, draw some boxes or use of piece of mind mapping software.
Paul: Chris Brogan didn't say use a piece of mind mapping software.
Roger: No, I just did. Yes, I know, but this is part and parcel of what he's helping us do this week and that is actually to get the planning process sorted.
Paul: Okay, here are five or six bullet points. A box is a method for packaging up a challenge or chore or project of any kind. Okay, Christmas presents, tough thing to do, get yourself sorted, make a box. Boxes can be drawings to help you put together and modularise you're thinking. The box doesn't have to be boring like mine is here, there squares and rectangles, in fact this isn't my usual, I do more clouds and pictures of cloud formations is my boxes and that's probably the cross-referencing with mind mapping. The next one is boxes can be a way to measure achievements, so in each of these boxes we have for example, "Who'll be there?", and we end up putting down a list of all the people who'll be there, or else the type of people will be there. And that's the box and we will measure ourselves against it, did we get them in the room? Did we get all those people that we put in the box "Who'll be there?" in the room? In fact you could take responsibility for driving that box, that could be your box. Get these people into the room. It's just another way of thinking about a project, isn't it? Boxes can represent dates on a calendar. So, you have a box, and the box has all the key timelines, all the key, important milestones on the way, "By 15 January we have to have got an email into people's hands. By the 19 January we have to get back the response. By the 25 January we have to of got their money. By the 28 January we have to have done this. Bang. A box for dates. Now, this was the best part of the whole email, I have to tell you. I was rereading this email this morning before you came and I got to this excellent line, "There are other applications for boxes that I'm skipping for you to discover". Now, let me have a little hobbyhorse about this. This is all about the benefits of producing an imperfect, incomplete communication. This is about Chris leaving an opportunity for us to develop his thinking, by saying there are other applications which he hasn't listed. He could list another six applications for boxes and thereby make it harder and harder for me, or you, to come up with any new idea. But he has deliberately left space, so he's deliberately produced an incomplete email. Now, I think that is such a great thing to do.
Roger: Well, I'm glad he did, because otherwise we wouldn't have a podcast. We'd just be reading our Chris's email verbatim.
Paul: Well, we wouldn't do that anyway, even if Chris wrote the most perfect email, complete one, we would take it off in another direction anyway.
Roger: But he's encouraging people to take the idea of the box and move forward.
Paul: Roger's pointing at the time, so we're well aware of our time now, and we're moving into the final chapter of this week's Business Jazz. Right, Roger every time we get towards the end of the podcast we need to leave people with something of great value for them, right? So, considering this idea of boxes, considering about all that we've spoken about already, what is your takeaway for people this week, Roger? What are you going to give people of value?
Roger: I'm going to tie in with what Chris says right at the very end of his email and it's about this issue of the grind, doing the work, doing the stuff that needs to be done, but we don't really enjoy doing, but we need to do it to allow us to do the stuff that we do enjoy, or to allow us to achieve the goals that we want to achieve. There is always a little bit of work that's a chore, that's a grind. Now, I think, here is a very, very useful way to help us manage those grinds, those chores, put them into bite-size pieces, and then they will get done. That's my takeaway. Help yourself, don't swallow the medicine in one big spoonful, take it in small measures, and then you'll get there as well.
Paul: Okay, let me try a takeaway which is sufficiently different from what you've done to give people another option, right? My takeaway from this week is actually not about Chris Brogan's email at all, it's about Business Jazz podcast. The fact that we now have a man in India whose listening to it, we have a woman in the Netherlands who's listening to it and we have a man in Bosnia who's listening to it, now I just pick those three places. We haven't yet got somebody in Japan, somebody in Australia, there's a load of islands in Indonesia that we're not being listened to yet, so people listening to this could do something really interesting, they could join our team, join the project, and the project is to just get a load of people connected with each other, swapping ideas, inspired by original inspiration from Chris Brogan, who no doubt has a regional inspiration from somebody else. But basically, let's see if we can get this Business Jazz podcast moved to another country. Let's ask each person who listens to this to look at their Facebook, their Twitter, their email list, find somebody in a different country and send it to them, and see what happens this time next week.
Roger: Build community. Help us outside our box.
Paul: Help us all. I'll leave you to give the credits.
Roger: Business jazz is recorded weekly at the Black Rock Castle Observatory. We are kindly afforded space in the cafe there, the Castle Cafe. You can find them on Twitter at @Castle_cafe1. Business Jazz is produced by MCFontaine, Mark Cotton, and you can find Mark Cotton, go to Twitter and you'll find him at @MCFontaine.
Paul: He also produces the Bletchley Park podcast, get that as well.
Roger: Paul, where can people find out about you?
Paul: Just put into Google changeagents.ie, or else @changeagents_ on Twitter.
Roger: I am @RogerOverall on Twitter, you can find me at the digitalstoryteller.net, you can find the show notes for this episode, and all the episodes of Business Jazz, at businessjazz.net.
Paul: And, you can find Chris Brogan in "The Impact Equation" in your local bookshop, or else on Amazon. Some day, we must get in touch with Julian Smith who wrote the book is well.
Roger: And you can find Chris at ChrisBrogan.com. Thank you very, very much for listening. Please do join us again. And do let us know, do let us know this week, how did you get out of your box?
Paul: We better stop Roger, we have to stop. Okay, we'll be back again.