Constraints come in many forms including time, money, and the availability of appropriate resources. Less obvious constraints can include the accessibility to comprehension of suitable outcomes, talent and the intellect necessary for task completion.
No matter the project, a change in your perspective will enhance creativity. Daily routines though comforting, don’t provide stimulation or novel thinking. Changing things up can give you that creative spark you seek. Changes in when you wake up, the route you take to work, work location, how you approach colleagues; increasing novel experiences can increase creativity simply by rethinking your restrictions, limitations, interactions, or your comfort zone.
Constraints exist in virtually all real-life problems that need solving. Overcoming constraints requires creative solutions. Without time constraints, there would be little incentive to find a solution that would be worthwhile to benefactors. Our brains are constantly in efficient mode, constraints force us to think. They can inspire us to use our minds to be more resourceful; responding to challenge. This is a major reason we want our children to face challenge early on in school.
How can we inspire students to persist through constraints, complete tasks & be more creative? Teachers should consider the scope and breadth of assigned projects and even tasks. It’s important to consider time constraints will reach across all areas of your students’ lives. By cutting down the number of choices, projects are more manageable. Most students will be able to respond better to smaller projects with tighter schedules rather than semester long projects. Even with increased workloads, creativity can increase in these situations. Students who encounter constraints tend to think more deeply about options. They were also more motivated. They explore less familiar paths, to diverge in previously unknown directions (Haught-Tromp.)
How do we overcome the Goldilocks effect; to find the right balance to spur creativity? The severity of limited resources leads one to contemplate where to draw the line. Creativity can be squashed if the limitations are simply too great. Finding balance to spur and optimize creativity requires us to prioritize necessary resources, innovate and be thoughtful of how we approach each project.
There are some examples of famous projects that took advantage of constraints. Monty Python & the Holy Grail – a low-budget movie where the actors decided to pound two coconuts together to imitate the sounds of horses was incredibly creative while adding hilarity to the film. A famous use of constraints was Hemingway’s response to a proposal to write a memoir in 6 words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Tragic, thought-provoking, and genius. Check out the transcript of this chat at Storify.
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Theory of Constraints 3 Bottle Demo to improve Flow (YouTube 6:01)
The Love Affair between Creativity and Constraint (TEDx 11:32)
The Power of Constraints (TEDx 11:47)
The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (Amazon)
Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.