What do you think? Is "outside the box" thinking a smokescreen for inexperience and ignorance? What about "disruptive thinkers" who might actually be "ill-informed non-thinkers?"
Coming as we do from a Special Operations Forces (SOF) background, we recognize full well the value of unconventional thinking and innovation in the military arts. Over the years, however, we have seen too many uniformed personnel of all ranks and services wear the ignorance of their profession as some kind of badge of honor. An unfortunately large number of purported military professionals like to puff out their chests and say “I think outside the box” when a more accurate and objective statement would be, “I don’t really understand the fundamentals of my profession and don’t want to take the time to learn.” This attitude puts them, their men, and the mission at risk.
What many people don’t realize is that the ability to observe, orient, decide, and act “outside the box” usually comes after many years deliberately spent *in* the box, learning the ropes and developing a baseline of what works, what doesn’t work, and what just might work if the situation is desperate enough. What some chalk up to “outside the box” thinking is simply the result of flexibility gained from deep experience. It’s not something any of us are born with necessarily, it’s something that takes time to develop. But like many skills practiced by special operations forces, people look at the results and misjudge what it took to get to that point. Because SOF often make innovation, improvisation, and adaption look easy, people think it *is* easy. They never see the years of study, practice, effort, and yes, failure, that it took to get to that point. So they try to emulate what they think they see, and many times they fail. Miserably.
A close catchphrase cousin of an “out of the box” thinker is the “disruptive” thinker. In fact, the terms are almost interchangeable. But whereas the “outside the box” thinker considers himself an innovator, the “disruptice” thinker seeks to make a name for himself by attacking the status quo. The major problem with some people who think of themselves as disruptive thinkers is that they are actually argumenative, ill-informed non-thinkers. Creative thinking is one thing; disuption of the unit and/or mission is something completely different, especially when the “disruptive” idea is nothing other than a poorly-implemented application of some theory that was vaguely mentioned in a popular book, seen in a movie, or covered in a military education course or a graduate school business class. Too many “disruptive thinkers” lack the intellectual and experiencial depth to understand the fundamentals of both the status quo they are challenging and the ideas they espouse to fix it, so they merely focus on repeating buzzwords and relishing the resulting attention they receive for their “disruptive” ideas.