Despite what our left brain really knows, we still have skewed impressions when it comes to creativity. Anyone who's ever been hired by a client and given full "creative freedom" to produce what they want knows what a Trojan horse that old chestnut can be. Your sketch, draft, or plan comes back covered in red ink, track changes, and feedback that starts with comments like "the idea is interesting, but..."
The fact of the matter is that creativity and freedom rarely go hand in hand as we're led to believe they do. We all know that Airbnb was started by two roommates who needed a solution to paying their rent. Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel on a vast scale from a distance of just a few inches. At no point could he ever get a perspective look at the work in progress from below.
Some of the best movies ever made were done so on a shoestring budget. Remember the terrifying success of the Blair Witch Project? Made by adding improvised performances to keep within their budget of just $25,000, unthinkable for a blockbuster movie. Even Harry Potter was written on scraps of paper by a struggling single mother who snatched at moments of spare time to create her epic works.
So, what's my point? Sometimes creativity is born from hardship and impediments, when restraints are placed upon us.
Nothing is scarier than a blank page and an overwhelming array of ideas. When you have no focus, or your brain starts to wander, it can be impossible to beat the outside distractions and create a piece worthy of publication. And the same applies to the world of commerce, science, art and innovations in general. So, if you really want to be more creative, it's time to start setting limits and adding some restraints. Here's my advice.
Limit your wordcount
Ever heard that oh so accurate quote by Mark Twain? "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." When a writer has a total lack of guidelines or requirements from their editor, they start to ramble. It's much easier to produce a long, unstructured piece of content that loses direction.
They may proudly produce a text that exceeds what would have been an acceptable word count, but the best stories and articles are the ones that are concise, free from unnecessary filler and over-elaborate sentences. It's harder to write a short story. Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.
Ever seen hashtags on Twitter asking you to sum up your day or your feelings in just four words? Often, the most creative sentiments come out of these tweets. Some of the best tweets that summed up 2016 in just four words include "is it over yet?" and "stop taking our idols."
In fact, the very limitation of 140 characters to begin with on Twitter forces people to get direct, to the point, and create a message that spurs others to take action. Or not. No one is going to read a 2,000-word essay on that platform. And you couldn't get one on if you tried.
Give yourself a deadline
Ever worked better under pressure? While the jury is still out on whether setting tight deadlines sparks or quashes creativity, examples of remarkable achievements to come out of tight deadlines abound. Many of us creative types need a shot of adrenaline coursing through our veins to ramp our creative gears up a notch.
According to the Harvard Business Review, setting deadlines is much more effective when your team understands why the tight time frame is necessary. Imposing deadlines for the sake of it can be unproductive.
I once had a boss who marked everything as urgent. Every order, every call, every email, every project. When 100 percent of your tasks are urgent, it renders no single one more important than the other and defeats the purpose completely. It's way easier to rise to the occasion on an important mission or project when you know what the need for urgency is.
Crisis situations can spark creativity
The most creative solutions and innovations to problems have been born out of extreme crisis situations. You may be too young to remember the heart-in-mouth plight of Apollo 13, but I'm betting you've seen the movie. A sudden explosion damaged the air filtration system, leading to a dangerous carbon dioxide buildup in the cabin. The crew inside were faced with certain death, unless a plan under pressure was conceived to save their lives.
The team of scientists, engineers and technicians at NASA mission control in Houston pooled all their knowledge and resources to create an improvised air filtration system that the condemned astronauts could replicate. It was precarious, ugly, and far from perfect, but the nuts-and-bolts solution created out of intense pressure worked. The astronauts were able to build it themselves and save their lives.
Turn limited space into an ally
On a daily basis, creative solutions are generally less dramatic, but equally thwart with constraints. Consider the incredible architecture and inventions that have come from a lack of space. The designers and architects started their projects with limited room to work with, forcing them to think of outside of the box ways of coming up with solutions.
We got space-saving inventions for studio apartments, like fold-away beds and kitchens you can hide with a sliding door. And we've all seen photos of those incredible luxury caravans circulating the web. Even for those of us who baulk at the idea of spending a vacation on wheels, sleeping in the back of a trailer; these high-tech, mini mobile homes with all mod cons may be enough to sway us. Physical constraints can lead to innovative solutions.
Working on a low budget
If you want to start up on your own or grow your business, but you're forever bemoaning the fact that you don't have the budget to do so, here's some food for thought. Almost every household name began as a startup at some point, even Apple, Starbucks, and Google. These were all concepts and seeds in the minds of their extraordinary founders, working with the constraints of a shoestring budget.
Sometimes constraints are needed for creativity to thrive. Starbucks opened its infamous Seattle store back in 1971 by three former University of San Francisco students. Not only did they have limited funding to work with but they also had limited knowledge. They had never even brewed a coffee, much less managed a multimillion dollar business. We all know how that story turns out.
And what about Apple? Started out of a garage by a college dropout. Or Google, whose college geek founders also worked with the smell of gasoline and rubber as their comates. They had no access to angel investors or crowdfunding like startups of today.
You don't need a lot of money to launch a successful business. You need to find a gap in the market and create something that's never been seen before. Sometimes the best way to do this is through constraints, whether self-imposed or thrust upon us. So, the next time you get incomplete information, an impossible deadline or budget to work with, be thankful. You're doing your creativity a favor.