Shake The Box

The kaleidoscope

Based on his work in 1814 and 1815, English scientist Sir David Brewster applied for patent number 4136 – for a new Optical Instrument called “The Kaleidoscope.” It would create patterns not seen in nature and could give artists insight. It would be an instrument “for the purposes of rational amusement”

Kaleidoscopes are not trivial. Their construction is governed by scientific laws and imaginative use of fixed and flowing objects. Despite their complexity, everyone, even a young child, can marvel at what they produce. A lens, light, mirrors and shiny objects make magic.

Changing the outcome

As you rotate the kaleidoscope different patterns appear. Eventually, you might find one that excites you. If nothing else you can be amused by the flow. Simple pieces reorganized by moving the instrument. No piece is added or deleted, yet much different outcomes can be achieved. But, you have to move the pieces around.

Shake the box

The same principle applies in life. We are often given facts, circumstances, strengths, and limits. Our mistake is to see the resulting arrangement as the only possible arrangement.

What if we don’t like that arrangement?

Shake the box and get a new arrangement. You will notice all of the parts are still there, just arranged differently. If you don’t like that, shake it again. Sooner or later, one you like will appear.

An example

Suppose you don’t like your marketing program. Shake the box. Maybe a new agency or new media or new product emphasis. A/B testing is useful here. Still don’t like it shake again. Maybe the product is a little dated. Re-engineer, or reprice, or make it in pink.

The fallacy of status quo.

Status quo is easiest and it must eventually get out of sync with its contextual variables. You cannot become functionally obsolete without consequences. Shaking the box can help you bring it back to relevant. There is no point keeping any product or process after its best before date.

“The Donald” is a box shaker.

Dilbert creator, Scott Adams has commented on this. President Trump makes outrageous statements and does outrageous things. Some people take him literally and that makes him seem a buffoon. It is more likely he is just shaking the box to see what he can get as an alternative.

  • Be polite with Putin or push Iran and see what he can get back. The conventional wisdom has not been helping.
  • Treat North Korea with respect. Maybe eliminate the nukes.
  • Tariffs to get attention to his wish for a different trading relationship. Improve the economy
  • Name calling and insults serve the same purpose. A different engagement.

To be an effective box shaker, you need a thick skin, self-confidence, and not much need to be right every time. Ego matters, but only as a tool. President Trump has those skills.

Don’t be stuck

Every once in a while, shake up a familiar practice, just to see what happens. I have tried to talk my grandchildren into peanut butter sandwich varieties. So far I have just suggested they try peanut butter and dill pickles, or peanut butter and onions. I hoped they would experiment for themselves, but perhaps a little example and a nudge would work better.

I will see three of them soon. Shake the box.


I help business owners, professionals, and others understand and manage risk and other financial issues. To help them achieve their goals, I use tax efficiencies and design advantages to acquire more efficient income and larger, more liquid estates.

In previous careers, I have been a partner in a large, international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. don@moneyfyi.com 705-927-4770

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