The expression “to think outside of the box” is a statement that is often quoted and is intended to encourage people to think creatively and innovatively. It is supposed to inspire people to think imaginatively. Yet, this experience that I had in Graz, has influenced me to completely rethink this statement. It has made me reevaluate the box entirely. Now, I feel as though I should not even think outside of the box, but that I should get rid of the box completely. This I feel is the type of innovative and disruptive way of thinking that I have adopted during this experience, and I am eternally grateful.
Before taking this course, I did not necessarily and completely understand what the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset truly entailed. First, when I thought of these terms in my head, I tended to think about a man who has created a brand new technology that has changed the world. I also tended to believe that this man was able to kick start his idea and company immediately because he had money, and is now sitting on top of great wealth. I could not even imagine myself being an entrepreneur because I believed that only one type of person could achieve this goal. In my mind, this entrepreneur and innovator could not possibly be me. I thought that I had nothing good to offer. Yet, this experience has truly opened my eyes. Now I see that almost anyone is capable of being a disruptive thinker. You just have to be open-minded, dedicated, and confident. Of course, there is more to this innovative world which
is extremely hard to put into words, but I feel that this course and trip has opened up each and every one of our minds.
I have also learned a lot about myself within this experience that I did not know was there. I feel as though it opened up certain things that I was blocking from my past and certain insecurities that I have felt about myself and laid them all out on the table for everyone to see. I do not mean this in a negative way though because it helped me take my mind off of my everyday life from home, it stopped me from thinking about less important things, and forced my mind to be in the moment. My brain was worked to such an impactful extent that I almost feel as though I have been brought out of a hypnotic-like state of mind. I almost find myself feeling that I have been hit with something that is extremely hard to explain, but I will try.
One very important aspect of having an innovative mindset in my eyes, is to truly be able to not only think outside of the box, but to really feel as though the box does not exist. This means that you will have to expect to seem a bit different to other people in your society and this is one lesson that I feel I have learned from you and Ian. I have been learning a lot this semester about how our cognitive brain works. One of my professors has discussed the fact that many people are not aware that they are being pushed to think a certain way. She discussed that this is something that happens all of the time within our society. The discussion involved talking about the theory that humans are almost brainwashed to do what everyone else is doing, to constantly worry about what everyone else is doing and about how oneself is perceived, and to constantly be distracted by media and tons of information. This Graz experience though, has truly helped in pushing our minds away from this “brainwashed” mindset and into a more innovative one. This involves being disruptive though, and that is one
of the key lessons I took away from Ian’s lectures. I learned that it does not matter how strange or crazy or disruptive an idea may be, because these are the most important ideas. The whole idea is to destroy what is common and considered to be normal, and to push away all of the boundaries destined to keep us from reaching our full potential. Think as though there are no chairs to sit on, think as though there are entirely different paradigms, and think as though there is no box to think outside of. None of it may make sense to anyone but this is innovative thinking.
I also feel as though the entire program was built in order to “un-hypnotize” and “un-brainwash” us from our everyday worlds. First we were all ripped away from our comfort zones. Each one of us traveled to a completely different country with complete strangers. Once we were in this country we were then paired with other complete strangers from an entirely different cultural background than our own. This pushed us to think differently because usually the human brain does not necessarily like change, but here, we were forced to experience a different culture than our own. This included different landscapes, different languages, and different mindsets. This does not even include the wide range of different personalities on the trip. Each American seemed as though they were very different from one another, and all of us were now in this unfamiliar country together. We were then pushed to mingle with people who have a different cultural background than us. Though the Austrians spoke English we still had to learn about their differences and their way of thinking. Because of this, we were also pushed out of our comfort zones and this aided in our innovative mindset learning experience. This also means that the Austrians experienced this same happenstance. Coming together with many
different minds and being forced to communicate our different approaches with one another, made us all think more innovatively.
This may be a small detail, but I also believe that lack of sleep also helped push our minds into this new way of thinking. Like Ian stated many times, the experience almost felt as though it was a long and amazing lucid dream. He said that it was going to feel as though you were on drugs, and it sure did feel that way. Though the lack of sleep is not necessarily healthy, I do feel that it aided in pushing us out of our comfort zones and into this new innovative mindset. This aloud our brains to completely let go. We were also not in control of anything that was to happen during the day. Most of the time we were away from technology, social media, and far away from all of the information normally captivating our minds back home. Instead, we were to build relationships with complete strangers from a different culture than us, had to do away with all of the technology usually being thrown at us, and therefore we were able to just let go. All of the creative thoughts were now able to easily flow out of our brains.
The lectures and teachings during the week were also the most important aspect about the program because they pushed us out of our comfort zones and into disruptive and innovative ways of thinking. We learned about the first innovators, like the dinosaurs. We learned about completely different ways of communicating through shapes and sounds. We learned about how to take an original thought, block it, look at it from all different angles, flip it around, destroy it, and build it back up to become something entirely different. Even after that was all done, we were still taught to destroy that idea and to create a completely different
paradigm within itself. This pushed our brains way beyond their comfort zones, yet now I feel as though I can never think in the same way again, and I mean this in the best way possible.
Eventually, you can see the shift that happened within everyone’s minds. At first I feel that that we were a bit closed off. People were grouping up and not talking with the entirety of the group. Eventually you could almost physically see these walls that all of us had up come crumbling down. We all started to clear our minds from our everyday thoughts and worries from back home and were able to open up. Not one person in the program was alike, yet we all became family. From the point of view on the American side, not one of us ever really talked before going away to Graz, and all of us have discussed that we would have never been friends if it weren’t for this program. Yet here we all are, not even able to part from one another and are in constant communication with each other. The same goes for our relationship with all of the Austrians. They are like our family and we have all built incredible relationships that will last a lifetime. It is most likely that many of us will possibly continue to create and collaborate ideas together in the future. It is also absolutely insane to think about how this all changed within one week, and it is all because of the program that you, Ian, and the other administrators from Austria put together.
If I could redo the trip again, I would not change a thing. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life and I know that we all agree. I have been an exchange student living in Germany for a year, and have traveled to many different places, and I still feel as though this program has impacted my life in an amazing way. I will never be the same. It has not only given
me new friends, yet an entirely different mindset. It has helped me face some of the hardest struggles I face and has made me want to work on myself more.
The program has also made me realize a few things about myself that I would like to improve. I learned that a lot of the time I am constantly in my head thinking about what others think about me and how I am being perceived. Yet this program has really opened my eyes and has made me realize that it really does not matter what anyone else thinks about you. Your idea may be completely insane to someone else and you may feel as though you look crazy to everyone else, but who cares? I learned that I should not care about what others think of me anymore and I should not be so shy or hold back on what I want to say to others. I learned that I do this quite often. I constantly feel as though I should say something, or voice my opinion, but then I don’t do it, and this program as made me realize this about myself. I’ve also learned that I have a very thick wall that I use as a barrier to protect myself from other people. I am not quite sure where this has come from but again, this program has led me to become aware of this wall. The experience has not only helped me clear my mind and think in a new disruptive and innovative way, but has made me want to change the way I have been living. It has made me want to improve myself. It has made me want to break down all of the barriers that I have within myself that are preventing me from living life to the fullest potential.
I have such an appreciation for everyone who was part of the program this year. This includes each and every one of the students as well as all of the coordinators and creators of the program. I would recommend this experience to anyone because I feel it is important to learn how to think disruptively and innovatively. Even if none of these skills are ever used, I know that this program has changed each and every one of our lives for forever. I can now say
that I have friends that will last a lifetime. I am thinking in new ways; in a completely different way than before and all I want to do is share this experience that I had with the people around me.
I am eternally grateful for you and all that you did for us on this trip. You were there for each and every one of us when we needed you and have made a huge impact on all of our lives. This experience is truly one of the greatest that I have ever had and I will never be the same person again. I have learned what it is like to not only think outside of the box but to tear the box apart, throw it away, and create an entirely different way of thinking within a new paradigm. I will never be the same.
Written by Eva Matusow
Montclair State University, Class of 2019