I marvel at my three year-old's ability to manipulate the iPhone and iPad. He's not a genius as I have heard similar stories from other parents. The fact is, he came to it with a clean slate. He didn't have any preconceived notions about how it should work, how previous tools compare, or its limitations. I didn't have to explain it to him. It has one button and endless possibilities with the touchscreen and he was happy to figure it out with trial and error. He's clearly as comfortable with the device as my sister (see below) and can spend hours playing games, surfing YouTube, and looking at pictures.
Several years ago, a friend of mine was arrested for driving under the influence. After speaking with many people, he hired an attorney in the city who had never represented anyone in a DUI case before. She had a reputation as a creative thinker and an aggressive litigator and he was convinced she would do well, even without any specific experience. She didn't know what was off limits and what wasn't. She ended up getting him an outcome that was far better than expected because she stretched the limits.
We all bring our past experiences with us wherever we go. We use those experiences to make decisions and solve problems we encounter each day. Some are as easy as which route to take to work while others are more complex. However, "thinking outside of the box" is applauded and it's how some of the best ideas are hatched. It's difficult to think that way when you have spent your entire career learning to do things a certain way.
For example, I represented a client years ago who told me that he only wanted to pay rent on the usable square footage. I told him that we would never get the landlord to agree. Yet, he insisted that I ask. To my surprise, the landlord was so desperate for his business that they agreed.
Another client was signing a ten year deal and didn't want to be responsible for increases to taxes and operating expenses. I told him that we could ask, but that we would never get it. Yet again, to my surprise, the landlord agreed.
The common factor among those two clients was that they were both business owners, not real estate professionals. They had no idea that what they were asking for was unconventional. Rather, they thought they were asking for something that, in their mind, was very reasonable.
It's the same approach my son takes to the iPad. He has no idea what it's not supposed to do. In some ways, I still treat mine like a walkman and am marveled by the "shuffle" feature. I bring my own past experiences while he comes to it fresh.
One of my goals for 2013 is to seek more creative solutions to the problems that arise at work by consulting not only my partners and peers, but also those who I respect from other industries. I trust that they will give me a new perspective, one without years of preconceived notions, and if nothing else, food for thought. After all, the only way to really think outside the box is to throw away the box.