It might seem counterintuitive, but creativity loves rules.
Getting yourself jazzed up with a “the sky’s the limit attitude” can actually be crippling. Overwhelmed by options and paralyzed by indecision, you’re more likely to spin your wheels rather than have a eureka moment. On the other hand, boundaries (even artificial ones) can force your brain to invent ingenious ways to work within them.
One of my absolute favorite examples of creativity through confinement is Rene Redzepi’s restaurant, Noma. Located in Copenhagen, Denmark, it’s currently recognized as the second best restaurant in the world. Redzepi only cooks with Nordic ingredients, mostly sourced from within a small radius around the restaurant. Since I don’t think I can top the ankle weights metaphor, I’ll let the New York Times handle this one:
“Denmark, after all, isn’t Provence or Catalonia. For a locavore chef, in particular, it has limitations. But Mr. Redzepi has air-dried, pickled, cured, foraged and researched his way around them. He has taken what could be a set of ankle weights and turned them into wings, his culinary accomplishments drawing all the more regard for the degree of geographical difficulty built into them.”
If the inventive use of Puffin eggs doesn’t resonate with you, what about haikus, Shakespeare or Twitter? (Stop cringing.)
A deep dive beats an aimless overview any day.
When you have limited resources to work with, you have to be judicious with how you use them. You have to become a problem-solver. You have to work with focus. What kinds of possibilities can you create for yourself within those walls?
But I’m not a prolific playwright or cooking prodigy. How does this apply to my life?
If you’re in the agency world, you’re already contending with boundaries: a client’s open-mindedness, deadlines, budgets and – perhaps most importantly – the length of a living, breathing, human’s attention span in 2013.
But sometimes, that’s not enough. Have you ever gotten a creative brief that offers zero direction? Anyone who has received this scorned breed of brief knows how a lack of limits can stifle creativity or, at the very least, waste a ton of time. In these situations (assuming you can’t get the client to provide you with some clarity), you have to be the challenge master. What can you come up with in 30 minutes? Can you write about a high-tech company without using the word “innovative”? What does copy for a St. Patrick’s Day-themed blowout car sale look like written as a Petrarchan sonnet*?
The key? Just pick something and go with it, at least to start. If the idea or concept morphs beyond your original idea – GOOD! It’s probably better that way. Toss the original aside and see where your new lead takes you. As Martha Stewart would say, “Enlightenment through constraint – it’s a good thing.”
*Not all challenges are worth pursuing.