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Column

GUEST COLUMN: Communicate outside the box this year

Get rid of the clichés and be your best creative self

David Hellmich
David Hellmich

This January affords us a once-in-a-decade opportunity to get things a bit more right in our lives. Ninety-three percent of Americans set New Year’s resolutions, and 80 percent break their resolutions before Punxsutawney Phil (Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinaire) lifts his little groundhog head in search of his rodent shadow.

Losing weight seemed like a reasonable goal as we kissed loved ones after the ball dropped in Times Square ... but seems less reasonable now with leftover holiday candies and cookies beckoning us: “Eat me. Just one bite of my sugary goodness won’t hurt. No one will ever know.”

Exercising to reclaim that fit physique of our youth was a noble dream as we shared glory-days stories with old friends into the early-morning hours of Jan. 1 ... but invariably becomes a dream deferred as the aches and pains from that first January workout remind us how over-the-hill we really are.

Now that the clichéd resolutions have come and gone, let’s commit ourselves to an attainable goal that is truly worthy of a new decade – communicating without boxes.

We have all encountered people who proudly, boldly tell us we need to “think outside the box.” They tend to be fine and earnest folks who genuinely want to seek less-routine solutions. It happens to me weekly at meetings throughout the Sauk Valley. In response to a problem being discussed, someone proclaims we must “think outside the box.” On Jan. 5, I opened an email promoting a new book on leadership development, which is marketed as “an out-of-the-box leadership development program.” Thinking-out-of-the box professional development is available in every conceivable field, from accounting to zookeeping.

Ironic, is it not, that the very people commanding us to think creatively, motivating us to free ourselves from the constraints of conventionality use the “think outside the box” cliché of clichés to express themselves?

A new decade deserves our best. Clichés are not our best.

Clichés are once-creative expressions that have become worn and tired. Think of communication as being like people. Creative expressions are people at the very best moments of their lives. Clichés are people after a long day, at the end of a long week, with dirty dishes to clean before they sleep.

There is nothing wrong with a cliché to communicate a pedestrian point. When a colleague leaves for another job, someone will warn “the grass is always greener.” When a friend experiences a hardship, someone will give comfort with “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And, of course, when the Bears football season mercifully comes to an end, “better luck next year” is thought by smug Packers fans.

There is everything wrong with a cliché to communicate our best attempts at being original. A cliché is the ultimate box that constrains our originality. We do not need to create poetry, and we should not fall into the trap of thinking wordiness equates to originality. We just need to thoughtfully use our own words as best as we can.

The next time someone says we need to “think outside the box,” politely smile but expect no original thought. Delete that email promoting “an out-of-the-box leadership development program,” and stay away from any and all professional development promoted by clichéd snake-oil charlatans.

Don’t communicate in the box, on the box, or anywhere near a box. Let’s think for ourselves and express ourselves the best we can throughout this new decade.

Note to readers: David Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.

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