Outside The Box

“Kid, in order to make it in this business, yah got to think outside the box!”

Ever hear that expression? I have, and more than once . . . mostly from motivational speakers, people that have helped me grow along the way in the hospitality industry, and from me . . . yes, you heard me right, from me! I have to remind myself every once in a while, that solutions to many problems do not come neatly packaged and are just waiting somewhere in our brains to be unwrapped and opened. It would be nice if that were the case, but too often the better solutions are found outside the box, in places where only the daring goes; those people who are willing to explore, to dream, to take the extra step, be it possibly dangerous, deleterious, or detrimental to one’s career.

Obviously, not all the decisions we are asked to make, or make, have anything to do with “thinking outside the box”, but it is necessary to understand that we have to train ourselves to be able to think outside the box, to leave our comfort zone, which, as many of us know, is easier said than done. 

Brainstorming sessions, clustering ideas, mental mapping, lists, stream of consciousness exercises are all good methods to get the “little grey cells” moving, as Hercule Poirot would say in solving difficult murders and whatnots, and many of these same techniques can be used in helping us to think outside the box.

However, before we can do any “outside the box” stuff, we have to know what that cliché really means or implies.

For the purposes of this essay, it means that we bypass the quick and easy answers/solutions that are Band-Aid fixes at best, and come up with a variety of Plan Bs (alternatives) that offer long-lasting solutions.

The standard thinking of the above problem—conundrum? —, most of the time, is that we only take into consideration the three things mentioned: services, room rates, and staff, and by doing so, we limit ourselves just to those three things when, in reality, there are all sorts of other things that can come into play to accomplish the desired results.

In the hospitality business, this may mean coming up with a long-term plan to increase occupancy without sacrificing services, current room rate prices, or letting go of staff—and, of course, without increasing current budget. Or coming up with a hotel concept that even though it is a hotel it will feel more like coming home, to prospective guests. Or rearranging a restaurant that seats you as if you were a sardine in a can into a place that offers large and small parties of guests a modicum of privacy, mobility, and comfort, without increasing prices or sacrificing service. Or coming up with an innovative way for large and small conventions to gather other than in the standard partitioned rectangle or square cubby hole, in which, more than likely, all feel squeezed in.

There are solutions out there to all these ideas, but it takes alternative thinking to come up with viable solutions. One of the ways I use to come up with alternative solutions is to ask myself: “If I had an unlimited budget, what would I do?” I would then write down all the things I would do, ponder it for a while, tweak it here and there, and then, after deliberating, I would go back and take out all extra costs and see what I could do without any “new” money, and strange though it may sound, within what is left, more times than not, is either the answer or a good beginning to the answer to the problem.

Thinking outside the box is not something that exists only for managers, it exists in all of us, no matter what position we have within an organization: from valet to CEO, all of us have the capability to think outside the box, which means that all of us may have something to bring to the table, but for that to happen . . . well, that’s for a future article.


Alan Campbell
Alan Campbell
ALAN is a highly accomplished, results oriented Hotelier with many years of experience in developing and delivering strategies and implementing solid organizational cultures that addresses the needs of the customer, colleagues, owners, community and industry. He has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. Alan has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. He considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world – it is the only place that both king’s and Paupers will visit you. Alan is also a featured contributor for, the “Global Hotelier’s Community.”

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  1. I see three kinds of “thinking outside the box”.

    1. What. Definitions only. There is a right answer and a wrong answer.
    2. How. Subject matter judgements. There are a few options and scenarios we can choose.
    3. Why. Big picture and end game. What we’re taking about is just a grain of sand to what we’re really talking about.

    I always found it more useful to say we’re talking at a certain level; dirt, weeds, or bird’s eye. To change levels, I just say “let’s talk at the ___ level.”

  2. Historically, Alan, hoteliers have mostly had a “me too” mentality. The 10% +/- that are creative and think outside the box lay the groundwork for improvements and then the other 90% follow. I think that most innovation in the industry falls in one of two categories.

    First, there is the group of changes that are intended to give a hotel (or chain) a market advantage. Those changes, while becoming industry standards seldom give the creator a lasting advantage as others adopt the change too. These are often in the vein of creeping amenities. You add an in-room coffee station, I copy that. I upgrade the quality of bed linens and you do likewise.

    The other group of changes is created out of necessity. Examples of this could be a convention hotel has a need for more large suites. How do they accomplish that without tearing up sections of the building? Your guests are more and more requesting a business center. Where can you put such a facility short of adding a wing?

    I believe that thinking outside the box is a talent that, like all talents, get better with use and practice. Once one begins to use it the process can be applied to personal life as well.