Coloring outside the lines |

Coloring outside the lines

Our culture places enormous pressure on all of us to follow the rules. As toddlers we’re taught not to touch the hot stove, not to put foreign objects in our mouths and to go to sleep at bedtime. When we go off to school, we’re taught not to color outside the lines and we’re rewarded for regurgitating information more than for being creative. As a consequence, most people are usually more comfortable staying and playing within the rules than with challenging them.This makes absolute sense. If there were no rules, what would prevent someone from shouting “Fire!” in a crowed theater or driving 100 mph over Vail Pass? But by following the rules, we also reinforce the notion that we must think of things only as they are and not as they could be.Take a close look at the following letters. QWERTYUIOP. We’ve all seen these letters hundreds or maybe even thousands of times, but how many can identify what this particular order of letters represents? It’s the top row of letters on a standard typewriter keyboard.In the late 1800s Sholes & Co., the leading manufacturer of typewriters at the time, received numerous complaints from users telling them that if the operator typed too fast, the keys would stick together. The management of Sholes & Co. asked their engineers to figure out a way to prevent this from happening.After much discussion, the engineers concluded that if they slowed the operators down, the keys wouldn’t jam as much and they proceeded to design an inefficient keyboard configuration. That’s right, Shole’s engineers purposely built inefficiency into their design.Many of the most-used letters of the alphabet were positioned on the keyboard in order that the relatively weaker ring and little fingers were used to depress them. This logic was extrapolated, and that’s how today’s keyboard came to be configured the way it is. By thinking creatively (I think the term is “outside the box”), Sholes’ engineers solved a problem in a manner that at first blush appeared counterintuitive.All of us who are sometimes prisoners of preconceived notions would benefit by challenging current thinking. It’s healthy and indicative of an open mind. Regardless of where a new or different type of thinking may lead us, it’s unwise not to attempt it. By becoming locked-in to a certain world view, we blind ourselves to other world views that may be more valid. The following example is given to us by Roger von Oech, Ph.D., a renowned creativity consultant to Silicon Valley:

1. We construct “internal rules” or establish a framework of beliefs based on what we perceive as true or in many cases as simple common sense.2. We then follow a particular line of thinking and stay within our arbitrarily fashioned thought process.3. Time passes and the dynamics that served to underpin our predispositions are modified or no longer exist. (Dr. Von Oech is telling us that “things change.”)4. Although the original reasons for our predilections no longer exist, we continue to adhere to our old paradigm, which is no longer valid or effective in today’s world.Dr. Von Oech tells us that we must break out of one pattern in order to discover another. The truly enlightened individual is open to change and flexible even within their own mental constructs. As citizens, we have responsibilities to our families, our community, our employers and our nation, but most of all we have a responsibility to ourselves. Since those responsibilities are filtered through our respective world views, it’s up to each of us to occasionally refresh those views or at least remain open to others. We come into this world filled with a sense of curiosity, merriment and inquisitiveness, and it’s our continuing responsibility to cultivate these natural attributes and occasionally color outside the lines. Quote of the Day: “In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at

Support Local Journalism