Thinking “Outside the Box” is NOT a Cliché


We hear this term all the time. Perhaps it’s because our workplace is as diverse and global as ever before. Or maybe it’s because rapid and constant change is the norm, and we are expected to be effectively able to cope and deal with change. Or maybe it’s because it’s just sexy and cool to push boundaries, challenge the status quo and do things differently. Whatever the case may be, I am going to argue a case that points to thinking “outside the box” being critically important. The angle I am taking in this post is regarding your career.

What’s the Angle?

My career has taken many interesting twists and turns, several times over. If you look at my resume, or my LinkedIn profile, you will see that my career does not reflect that of a typical HR practitioner. If we were still living in the 1980s this would have been a problem for me, but thankfully we are not. But here’s the thing. It’s not just the optics of my career path being one that resembles a pinball being bounced around from side to side, it’s more about thinking outside the box.

My operating principle has always been to quickly adapt to what’s going on in the business community. When I graduated from the Sauder Business School in 2000 the job market for new grads in Vancouver was horrible. There was virtually nothing for me in the field of HR, and I was not willing to settle for some pigeon-holed job evaluating collective agreements for some public organization in B.C. So, I left the province and went to Edmonton where the demand for new HR grads was the complete opposite. Another example is me starting my own business in early 2009 after I lost my job with a small consulting company after the recession hit. The job market was rock bottom, and I wanted to learn all about HR and Recruitment technology. So off I went to do that on my own. Fast forward to today and my career path has taken 20 million twists and turns since I started my own company. You could even so I’m a completely different person, and I would agree with that.

So, What’s the Point?

In an era where most people still use job boards as their primary job seeking strategy, you need to stop and think about doing things differently. After all, job postings only represent a certain percentage of the available work yet everyone flocks to them like herding cattle. Me? I do the opposite. I focus on meeting with organizations that have an interesting value proposition that I believe I align with to figure out their current needs, and future roadmap. I then evaluate whether I think I can help them and flourish with them. If I answer “yes” then I figure out a creative way to propose a working relationship with them. It could be a project, consulting gig or even a full-time position. Whatever the case may be, the point here is that I am thinking creatively when it comes to my career progression. Personally, if I didn’t do this then I would likely feel like I’m sitting in the waiting room of the hospital emergency room for hours on end twiddling my thumbs. If you ask me, this is a complete waste of time.

So, get your creative thinking hats on and figure out a way to differentiate yourself from your competition. Fly to another city to meet with a company you admire and want to learn more about, start a blog and write about your ideas, join an industry association or business group, start attending, or even planning, meet-ups, take an online course to build your skills in high-demand areas (e.g. employer branding), start speaking at conferences and events, or anything else that you can come up with. Over time you will be amazed at the results of people and organizations being interested in you and your ideas.


  • Fantastic post, Jeff! I agree with your suggestions and like you, my career has taken many twists and turns; in fact, my latest twist is about to launch soon 😉 I often encourage people I work with to challenge the status quo and to create a career based on your passions & talents by *strategically engaging* with companies and individuals who can help make this happen; just ask!! And who needs a box anyway; unless you’re my two-year-old grandson, boxes are boring when life … and hopefully your career … can be anything but!!

    • Thanks for chiming in Claire, appreciate it! Well… now I’m certainly intrigued what you’re up to next so please make sure you tell me so I can promote it. 🙂 🙂

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