Have you ever imagined what it would be like to take on a project where the sky’s the limit? No budget, no timeline, no logistical factors to worry about. You could do anything! And while it’s fun to dream big, the reality is that taking away all of those constraints might not help your creativity as much as you think.
Constraints and limits don’t hurt our creativity—they actually help it.
With no limits, it’s too tempting to take the easiest way out or to imitate something that’s been done before. But when we work within boundaries, we’re forced to get creative and think outside the box. We’re challenged to stretch our imaginations, to come up with workarounds, and find new ways of thinking.
Sometimes, constraints are what we need to get the project done in the first place. Most of us have had the experience of pushing something off until right before the deadline, feeling like we have all the time in the world to get to it. But then when time is almost up, we get to work—and are incredibly productive and creative in just a small amount of time, getting more done in the last few hours than we did in all the days (or weeks) leading up to the deadline. The freedom of having all the time in the world means we feel no urgency–the time limit pushes us to actually do the work.
Limits force us to think of new ideas. If you’ve ever participated in a low ropes course as part of a team-building exercise, you can probably think back and remember the facilitator telling you the limits. For example, your group might be on one side of a spiderweb-shaped rope. Your goal: to get everyone through the spiderweb. Easy enough—everyone can just crawl through, right? But then you hear the rest of the instructions: if anyone touches the ropes, you have to start over. And—each opening in the spiderweb can only be used once. Once your group has learned the constraints, the creative ideas start flowing.
How many companies said they couldn’t make remote work a reality for their workforce—until a pandemic hit, and coming into the office as usual wasn’t an option anymore?
Innovation happens within the framework of constraints.
If you are feeling stuck on a project, consider adding some limitations to jump-start your creativity. Set a timer for ten minutes and write down as many ideas as you can in that time period. Find three random objects around your house and challenge yourself to incorporate them into your project. Think of a rule that would make things more difficult, and spend twenty minutes thinking of ways to get around it. You might not solve all your problems by adding limitations, but you will unlock your creativity—which might be exactly what you need!