Business Clichés Part Two – Blue Sky Thinking
Following on from our last article, Business Clichés – There’s no I in TEAM, we’re going to have a look at a couple more commonly used and abused business phrases that refer to creativity. Whether or not you use them yourself, the chances are you’ve heard these sayings time and time again. What do they really mean? Where did they come from and are they really relevant and worth using today?
So, let’s get this show on the road…
Blue Sky Thinking
The phrase ‘Blue sky thinking’ means to have creative ideas that are not constrained by preconceptions and come up with solutions that haven’t been considered previously. The term is similar in meaning to ‘thinking outside of the box’. It is sometimes used in an alternate form, ‘big sky thinking’.
Blue sky thinking is listed as the second most likely business cliché to make you scream in a survey by The Independent from 2016, quite an achievement in the grand scheme of things!
Where Did This Phrase Come From?
The phrase has been used by management gurus since the early 70s but it’s origin remains clouded rather than blue. Linguists agree that the likely origin is the phrase, ‘the sky is the limit’, referring to the availability of limitless possibilities.
The earliest example available is from the Iowa newspaper, the Oelwein Daily Register, April 1945:
“Real thinking. Speculation. Pushing out in the blue. Finding out [the facts] was what put me onto the theory of blue-sky thinking.”
Is ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ Still Relevant in Today’s Business World?
Blue sky thinking is a business cliché likely to cause eye-rolling and deeps sighs of exasperation. It smacks of the corporate world and has been ‘done to death’ by so many motivational speakers, it’s more likely to cause a mass ‘switch-off’ than a surge of creative ideas.
Thinking Outside of the Box
Thinking outside of the box is typically defined as thinking creatively, without conventional constraints.
We’ve all been encouraged to think outside of the box. In fact, the phrase is used so often, it almost seems to be irrelevant. Who, after all, would dare to restrain their thinking to ‘inside’ the box today?
Where Did This Phrase Come From?
Various US management consultants claim to have introduced this phrase in the late 60s or early 70s. One of the earliest examples of its use can be found in a July 1975 issue of US magazine, Aviation Week & Space Technology:
“We must step back and see if the solutions to our problems lie outside the box.”
Rather than being a metaphor for simply uncreative thinking, the box this phrase refers to is thought to actually exist. In 1914, Loyd’s Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks, and Conundrums, featured a puzzle know as the ‘Nine Dots Puzzle’.
Subsequently, management consultants of the 60s and 70s, used the puzzle in workshops as a way to encourage their delegates to use creative methods of thinking.
Is ‘Thinking Outside of the Box’ Still Relevant in Today’s Business World?
Although the encouragement of creative, unconstrained thinking is still commendable, this business cliché is far too overused.
With the English language providing almost unlimited possibilities for the creation of phrases that encourage ways of approaching our issues and challenges, using this phrase seems a little bit, well, INSIDE the box. After all, there are more ways to skin a cat.
Do these phrases make you want to grind your teeth, or do you think they’re a handy way to get a point or directive across to an audience?
We’d like to hear your thoughts, so feel free to ‘reach out’ and make contact…