ULI: Thinking Outside The Box

Communication begins in the brain before words come out of your mouth or your fingers slide or tap keys, so the box* you think in is the box in which you communicate.

[Excerpts from Chapter 4: What’s Your Point? Cut The Crap, Hit The Mark & Stick! (2021)]

[4.2] “The Box” In Context

The box represents the mental totalitygood, bad, and indifferent—of your life and work plus the diverse conscious and unconscious influences involved.

The goal is not to dismantle or eliminate the box. The aim is to increase awareness of how the box of past experience influences communication—reactions, creativity, intuition…and thinking—before you act. This advance analysis allows you to exploit in-the-box experience or move beyond it, at will, when communicating with those who matter to you, online and off.

As you improve awareness of the impact the box has on what you do, what you don’t do, and who you are, you’ll transform, what can be a mental anchor holding you back, into a practical, creative resource for innovation.

[4.3] Think Outside “The Box”

Has someone told you to think outside the box?

Or, is this what you tell others to do? Or, attempt to do yourself?

In these situations, do you really understand what this instruction involves?

For some, this phrase is a cliché. For others, it has value as a trigger for practical and creative training exercises or business development practices. In most cases, the phrase is not completely understood, so often its value is not fully realized.

Think outside the box is a catchphrase referring to the ability to consciously and deliberately discard preconceptions and approach a problem from a fresh or new point of view.

Whether this “think differently” phrase says it for you or not, it does describe an important aspect of effective Forward Thinking: the mental leap or exploring possibilities and impossibilities outside the box—beyond past experience, stereotypes, bias, prejudice, values, standards, and the norm.

The first—and often-overlooked—step in thinking outside the box is to “see the box.”

This involves identifying key limiting beliefs, mental barriers, emotional triggers, professional standards, and repeating patterns that define your box of past experience in each specific context.

“Outside” EXAMPLE:

Seeing The Box with the Urban Land Institute (ULI)

Since land is under every aspect of our lives and life on the planet, real estate and land use relate to everyone and every business in one way or another. That commonality makes real estate and land use prime areas for examples of the power of the box and the effort required to think outside the box of past experience.

During the two-day ULI 2021 Housing Opportunities Conference, cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts compared notes on where each of their sectors stood and what might be next. One moderator stated: “What do we do now? We know that development has been the cause and result of segregation and discrimination.

Among the list of out-of-the box issues addressed, here are two “boxes” for developers, investors, and buyers to “see”…

ULI Q: 1. How can the impact of redlining and disinvestment be reversed?

“Redlining was how structural racism and inequality were designed into cities [initially in 239 metropolitan areas across the US]. It has never been undone.”

Kendyl Larson, Director of Research and Planning for the Polk County Housing Trust Fund stressed that “Iowa has a deep history rooted in inequality and exclusion, but the community has no idea how we got to this place.”

“Seeing the box” involves education—in the school system, through media, across the community, self-enlightenment, and in conversation. Terminology must be examined and some discarded. This enlightenment is essential to identifying the box represented by systemic racism and created through entrenched redlining and other policies.

  • Eyeopening 5-part Video “Redlining in Des Moines” shares startling revelations from Part 1: What is redlining? to Part 5: Where do we go from here? A film that may change the way you look at your real estate and communities.
  • NYC-based social-impact firm designing the WE “facilitates collaborative processes to redefine how big picture systemic challenges are approached, identify opportunities for action, and co-design more holistic and resilient strategies centered on positive transformation.” dtWE has 18 community projects on the go including Des Moines.

“I personally learned the amount of emotional labor it requires as a person of color to really go through this repetition consistently with local government. We have been saying the same thing for many years…just help out. Try to have a different space for conversations,“ explained Florida-based Sasha Forbes, Director of Community Collaboration and Policy in the Healthy People and Thriving Communities (HPTC) program and the Policy Lead in the Strong Prosperous and Resilient Communities (SPARCC) initiative. Forbes works with community partners to accelerate community-led development that centers racial equity, builds a culture of health, and prepares for a changing climate with a focus on affordable housing, parks and open space, a restorative economy, and transit.

ULI: 2. How do developers make the numbers work for sustainability?

Leading developers shared “their experiences setting project-performance goals and then putting the financing together in a rapidly evolving context.” Despite increasing demand for green, healthy, and resilient communities, green building can challenge development bottom lines that determine whether a project will go ahead or not.

Financial feasibility and funding requirements for sustainable building are influenced by investors with a determination to seek out green projects to please themselves and their stakeholders. Similar motives drive many buyers intent on sustainable projects for two reasons:

1. Green buyers want to invest in real estate that matches their socially-responsible ideals and
2. They want to gain personally from energy efficiency and other benefits associated with sustainable builds in projects ranging from affordable to luxury housing.

To further explore thinking outside the box to achieve sustainable development consider the following three sustainable developers:

  • Redgate, a strategic real estate advisory and investment firm, builds in Boston’s outer urban areas near transit and favored locations for Boston commuters. Vice-President Elizabeth Bello explained how flood-control and energy efficiency measures are integral to feasibility and affordability for Redgate, investors, and residents alike.
  • Florida-based ZOM Living is attracted to projects with “a story” said Vice-President Kyle Clayton describing their green luxury rental developments which may involve archeological elements, preserving mangroves, or saving century-old palm trees. Florida’s strict energy code and investors attracted to sustainability drive their company push to do as much green building as possible.
  • California-based nonprofit Community HousingWorks was described by Senior Vice-President of Housing and Real Estate Development, Mary Jane Jagodzinski, as undertaking an impressively wide range of diverse nonprofit projects across the state. Jagodzinski stressed that “modern sustainability” is about “how you put them together appropriate to their climate.” Sustainability themes include Brownfields, community revitalization, and transit-friendly including construction of a bike lane. Drivers include the CHW Mission for family sustainability, the California Tax Credit system, and the aggressive energy and water code.
  • “Housing should be seen as infrastructure” stated David Dworkin, President and CEO of the National Housing Conference. Yet another example of how to frame housing in fresh context.

Whether you realize it or not, thinking outside the box before addressing limitations imposed by the box seriously challenges success since you are trying to:

  • Solve a problem when you don’t fully understand the problem
  • Decide which choice to make when you don’t know all the choices
  • Achieve goals without knowing exactly what and how to improve.

The Point: “Successfully and consistently thinking outside The Box demands full understanding of challenges and limitations imposed by The Box. Once these limitations and how to think beyond them are clear, switching at will between thinking inside and outside The Box becomes ever-ready innovative expertise.”…

* In “What’s Your Point?,” the box refers to past experience, positive and negative, in the form of conscious and unconscious limitations, repeating patterns, emotional triggers, and mental barriers, including stereotypes, values, beliefs, bias, and prejudice, that influence problem-solving, strategizing, decision-making, innovating, designing, and other communication challenges, and that differ for each individual and group.

© 2021 Copyright PJ Wade The Catalyst. All rights reserved. TheCatalyst.com

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