This year, I took a couple of classes that taught me the beauty of limiting options--or thinking within a box.
They weren't business classes--they were improvisation (improv) classes. My friend Susan Brownfield runs Boutique Theatre Basel, and she was starting an improv class with Second-City trained pharmaceutical executive Jennifer Cain Birkmose as the teacher. "Do this!" she begged me.
I resisted. I'm an HR person, and we don't believe in being funny.
But off I went, willing to make a fool of myself to help a friend.
Instead, I got helped. It increased my creativity while teaching me the beauty of limits. Here's how.
Embracing "yes and"
This is the first rule of improv: You have to accept whatever the last person said as gospel truth and go on. This is absolutely a limit. You may have planned to rescue the princess in the tower, but your team member suddenly turns the princess into a World War II tank. In improv, there's no chance to whine and complain about it or ask for a redo. You say, "and the tank was stuck in the tower," and go on with life.
The thing is, the past has happened. You can spend a lot of time thinking and complaining about it, but you can't change it. Embracing the "yes and" rule helps you move forward. Adding that one rule--that one restriction--can make your decisions easier and help you see the way to move forward. "Yes, I got passed over for venture capitalist funding, and I will now do this."
"No limits" limits your creativity
"What's your favorite movie of all time?"
We all theoretically have a favorite movie, but your mind is likely to go blank whenever someone asks that question. It's as if you've never seen a movie in your whole life.
Now, let's put limits on that: "What's your favorite action movie?" or "What's your favorite movie musical?" or "What was your favorite movie you saw in high school?"
These limits make it easier to come up with your answer.
The same happens in improv. If we say, "Go up on the stage and say something funny," everyone freezes. But, instead, you pull ideas out of a hat or have the audience shout ideas, and now we say, "You are an archaeologist in Cleveland, and you run into your mother-in-law."
It's much easier to start talking and acting with this boundary.
What boundaries or boxes can you make to help boost creativity? Well, one most businesses use is deadlines. Another is budgets. But you can create whatever boundaries that will help get minds going.
Serving others helps you
Cain Birkmose frequently had us warm up by telling a story--one word at a time. We went around the room with each person adding a single word, and it sometimes felt frustrating that my contributions seemed always to be "and, the, it" or other boring words and never the main action.
But, here's the thing: The story doesn't materialize without these support words. Not everyone is the star, and that's OK. These very "in the box" words are critical to story success.
This is also true in your business. Your creativity is excellent, but someone's got to make sure you comply with federal and state regulations. Someone has to get accurate paychecks cut every week.
The business cannot be successful without working in these boxes. (See how long your employees stick around if you take a creative approach to paying them.)
But service can be much more than taking care of the business side of things. It's working to make sure others succeed. Just as if you try to be the center of attention and the one who gets all the funny lines, the sketch will fall flat if you demand to be the star of the business. Instead, put others' success first, and everyone will succeed together.
Working within boundaries can help you push your creativity and be more successful. Removing all limitations can leave you floundering, wondering what to do next. So, next time, think within the box and see what you can build.