"Those who apply themselves too closely to little things often become incapable of great things." Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Constraints and Creativity

Constraints are a constant in life. Whether we speak of business, personal, spiritual, or social arenas. A constraint is basically a limiting factor. Game theory, is a theoretical form of imposing constraints in a setting with the desire to achieve a specific outcome. Every game we play has constraints (rules) we must abide by to remain within the context of the given system.

Generally speaking constraints impede our level of freedom in a sense. Most of us would not impose constraints on ourselves to limit our own sovereignty or autonomy. When we think of innovation we'd normally rather think big and broad. We imagine limitless possibilities when we brainstorm, and try to think "outside the box."

What if thinking outside the box is not the best strategy? What if making the box smaller is an even better strategy? A recent article in Strategy+Business struck a cord with this theme. The article was called "Innovation Sandbox." If you really think about it imposing more rules or constraints "forces" your mind to be more creative. It focuses your attention and funnels it into laser like accuracy. The big ideas, the big results, the epiphanies don't seem to come from the freedom, per se, of thought, but the constriction by constraints. When one is forced to create one will.

In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal; Roger Ailes, CEO/Chairman of The Fox Television Stations Group, responded with a similar notion when asked about the grudge of having to build the new Fox Business channel. Roger says, "there are no options. The problem with most people who don't succeed is that they see options..."
In his own words Roger was acknowledging the value of having constraints (less options).

Anthony Robbins succinctly sums up this them of constraints as well, he says - "If you can't, you must; and if you must, you can." So we begin to see the value of imposing constraints on ourselves sometimes. By challenging our minds to find solutions within constraints we strengthen our creative capacity.

Another exercise to see the power of constraints is this:
In 10 seconds think of as many things as you can that are white.
Now take ten seconds and think of all the white items in your refrigerator.
Most people will count more white items in their fridge as compared with having to think of the whole universe. Simple but accurate representation of how constraints can serve you.

Angel Armendariz

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