We hear it over and over: “think outside the box,” but what does it mean – and does it really work?

I was inspired to write this piece after reading a book called You, Inc (by Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith/Business Plus). They address this in the book, but I’d like to take this a step further. First off, if the box you’re in works, well, it works for you. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But here’s a twist. Don’t go outside the box, enhance it, add to it and infuse it with influences you wouldn’t normally have been exposed to.

Have you ever noticed that the minute you step outside of your “space,” like going on vacation or traveling a different way to work, that something pops? A creative solution emerges to a long-term problem, or you suddenly hit on a new story twist for your next book.

As authors, publishers, entrepreneurs, speakers, we are called upon to be creative. We want unique ideas to write about and unique messages to sell them. So we try and get creative and move out of our comfort zone. Now, while I’m all about moving out of your comfort zone, the out-of-the-box thinking that marketers love to tout isn’t really that effective or, for that matter, even possible.

If you’re struggling to be creative or to problem solve, you might want to take some time to add some new influences to your day. Sometimes if I need to flex my creative muscle I will try and find a correlation between something totally opposite what I am working on. Meaning I’ll try to find the common thread. It’s a fantastic exercise and again, it’ll help to stretch you and bring more influences into your box.

Do you remember the movie “Working Girl”? In it Melanie Griffith was trying to climb the corporate ladder but part of her never really fit in. She read all the wrong magazines, didn’t really dress the part, but in the end she came up with an idea that was the center story of the movie. A New York executive asked her where she came up with it and she said, “Reading W.” “W?” the exec questioned. “Yes,” Melanie’s character said, “you never know where the good ideas will come from.” And that’s my point exactly. You never know where and when inspiration will strike, but if you’re sticking to the same routine, it’ll be a lot tougher to find inspiration than if you shake up your day. Here are some ideas to help you get there. Consider one or all of them. You’ll be surprised what you learn!

1)   Read a magazine you wouldn’t normally read. If you are in business and you read Business Week or Entrepreneur that’s great, but the likelihood of either of these magazines expanding your horizons is minimal. Why? Because they’re really telling you more of what you already know. I travel a good deal and whenever I’m in an airport I try and pick up a magazine I wouldn’t normally read. Try this, you’ll be surprised what you learn, and something outside of your normal scope of reading can trigger new ideas.

2)   Watch a movie you would never normally watch: if you’re a western junkie, try watching a chick-flick or vice-versa. I know for you die-hard thriller watchers this might make your skin crawl, but trust me, a change of pace is always good to trigger the creative juices.

3)   Listen to a different radio station: this is really fun, and even better, why not try listening to a station outside of your area? I grew up in Belgium and will sometimes listen to Belgian radio. I also love digging into the podcasts on NPR and other talk radio shows.

4)   Go to a tractor pull instead of the opera: OK, maybe not exactly, but the idea here is to expose yourself to something new and again, try and find a creative way that it ties into your book or area of expertise. One year after watching the Tour de France I was inspired to write an article called, “Biking and Book Marketing: what the Tour de France can teach us about marketing our books.” Odd as it seems, this article got a lot of traction. We ran it in our newsletter and many bike-fan sites ran it too, no surprise because authors are everywhere.

5)   Change your work surroundings:  I’m not talking about moving offices, just try working somewhere else. Sometimes if I’m buried in minutia and struggling to be creative, I’ll pack up my netbook and go hang at my local Starbucks for an afternoon. Working on a plane does this for me, too, and knowing this, I save all my creative challenges for my next flight (fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I’ve been flying a lot these days). The point being, sometimes sitting at your same desk and same chair doesn’t do anything for your creativity; in fact, often it stagnates it. Just like standing water, every once in a while you have to drain your mind of the usual, input the unusual and see what happens.

The idea of “thinking outside the box” was coined by an advertising firm eons ago, and we’ve used it,  and in many cases overused it. Yes, it means be creative, but as I pointed out earlier, if you’re doing well then clearly your box works for you. Instead of trying to move outside of it, try bringing new influences into it instead. You’ll not only find that your creativity is moving again, but the ideas, which before had seemed stuck behind a road block, are now more like free flowing traffic.

Where will your journey take you?

Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert and an Adjunct Instructor with NYU. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. She is the author of five books, including Book to Bestseller which has been called the “road map to publishing success.” AME is the first marketing and publicity firm to use Internet promotion to its full impact through The Virtual Author Tour, which strategically works with social networking sites, blogs, micro-blogs, ezines, video sites, and relevant sites to push an author’s message into the virtual community and connect with sites related to the book’s topic, positioning the author in his or her market. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her website at http://www.amarketingexpert.com. To subscribe to her free ezine, send a blank email to:  subscribe@amarketingexpert.com Copyright © 2010 Penny C. Sansevieri