In my experience, constraints can boost creativity. I get more creative when I operate out of constraints. E.g. “Get X done in Y months else penalty of Z% per week” or “Get this huge proposal out by/before 5:00 PM tomorrow to remain eligible“. Constraints pushes us to be creative, to find easier or more effective ways of doing things and getting more done with limited resources available.
Recently I was in meeting with the Product Director and Product Manager of an organization. At the end of a technical discussion, the Director asked me to describe our services in 30 seconds. Before I started speaking he said, “Your time starts now!”.
Knowing that I only had 30 seconds to speak (constraint), I was able to elevate my thinking to a level where I described the very core of the organization. I was surprised to know how my thinking changed in light of constraints. I was able to do a different level of abstraction. Probably if I had 30 minutes to describe the same, I would have spoken a lot, but with little substance and much less effectiveness.
As a leader, it helps to create reasonble constraints for team members – to fire their creativity and effectiveness. Our brain has tendency to tag items that have constraints and pay special attention to them. In absence of such reasonble constraints, we tend to procrastinate and get into an easy mindset where little gets accomplished.
This is also a reason why I love Twitter. Whatever you want to express, you only have 140 characters. This constraint helps me to do concentrated thinking, extract the core and put the best possible representation of thought in less than 140 characters.
Probably this is also why people get more creative during recession. Recession or difficult career situation throws a set of constraints and organizations/individuals have to get things done within these constraints.
Another idea is to have a set of self-imposed constraints. I know a sales manager who imposed a constraint that he would respond to the incoming leads within 45 minutes. If he is not able to respond back in 45 minutes, he would consider it as a personal failure. This rule helped him become extremely responsive to prospects.
Do you think constraints are good? Does it help you get more creative? Do you have self-imposed constraints (rules) for managing your work/time? I would love to hear your side of the story.
P.S: Just found a fantastic Business Week article on creativity and constraints. It adds another perspective – “While we need them (constraints) to spur passion and insight, we also need a sense of hopefulness to keep us engaged and unwavering in our search for the right idea. Innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.”