Using Constraints to Cultivate Creativity

Usually when we think creativity, we think openness, shades of gray — and yellows, greens and blues — and an infinity of options at our disposal.

But, sometimes, the less we have to work with, the more creative we can get. Sometimes, constraint can actually help creativity flourish.

“There are many real-life situations in which imposing severe constraints leads to an outpouring of creativity,” writes Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, in her excellent book InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity.

In it, Seelig includes the ingredients we need to nurture creativity, which she views as an asset in any field and a skill that requires practice.

(Specifically, she proposes a model of creativity called the “Innovation Engine.” You can learn more in this piece by Karen Frenkel.)

As Seelig writes, “Creativity allows you to thrive in an ever-changing world and unlocks a universe of possibilities. With enhanced creativity, instead of problems you see potential, instead of obstacles you see opportunities, and instead of challenges you see a chance to create breakthrough solutions.”

In her chapter on constraints, Seelig discusses the various types of restrictions and gives interesting examples of how individuals and companies have used boundaries as big opportunities.



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