Yes, really. Constraints breed creativity. I’m going to show you one surprising way to be more creative in your business & life.
Have you ever been stuck in a pattern of yuck with your business? Or, you’re doing all the things the gurus say to do, but you’re not making any headway?
If you could only think of the perfect solution but…
… you don’t have time to be creative because you have to pick up your kids in 30 minutes
… you don’t have enough money to do what really needs to be done
… you have to build one more skill first
… the market is saturated already and it’s hopeless.
You think you need everything wide open and perfect for you to do your best work.
In this article I want to show you how to kick start your creativity by doing the opposite. Creativity flourishes under constraints.
Can Limits on Creativity Be Good?
I first thought about creativity and constraints while reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. It sounded ridiculous. Don’t creatives need freedom and complete artistic license to be free and expressive? That’s what every stereotype says.
Then, during a color theory class, our weekly assignment was to make various color collages from scraps of paper. We had no rules other than to illustrate that week’s color lesson. Arbitrarily, mid-way through the class, I decided to challenge myself to leave the scraps as they were (without cutting them into my own shapes) and work with them as-is.
It was an accidental genius move. They were much more successful than when I gave myself the freedom to cut out shapes. Something about that rule I imposed upon myself got me thinking at another level.
And finally, while doing research for this article, I discovered that one of Google’s core values is “Creativity loves constraints.” Wow, if Google appreciates constraints, I might be on the right track.
Constraints = Freedom?
Constraints surprisingly give you freedom. Freedom from the overwhelming mass of ideas and thoughts and options out there!
By limiting a problem, you free your brain from having to process 80 bazillion+ options. So, if you’re processing fewer options, your brain can think deeper about the options it is working with.
Humans are where we are now because brains love to be lazy. They have fascinating ways to shortcut processing because up until very recent times, saving valuable resources like calories could mean the difference between death and survival. Without constraints, your brain will resist thinking deeper and more creatively.
“When there are no constraints on the creative process, complacency sets in, and people follow what psychologists call the path-of-least-resistance.“Harvard Business Review
Avoid Analysis Paralysis
My brain loves to think and analyze and go through as many options as possible. How about yours? Many people, end up frozen and doing nothing because there are just too many possibilities. Instead, they are compelled to analyze and study the problem forever.
Paradox of Choice
Linked to analysis paralysis is the paradox of choice. This says that the more choices we’re given, the less likely we are to make a decision. Unlimited choice actually makes things harder on your brain.
Avoid Decision Fatigue
Decision fatigue is a real thing. You only have so many decisions in your brain for the day. When you reach that limit, your brain needs to rest! And it doesn’t seem to matter what the decision is about. Decisions about what to wear, what to eat and what to work on each day can start to deplete your decision making supply before you even get to work.
When you set constraints ahead of time, either real or manufactured, you limit the number of decisions you have to make while solving the problem.
And finally, having a set of constraints sounds like a challenge to your brain. If you’re in a situation that needs creative thinking, don’t view it as a setback. Instead look at it like a challenge. That subtle reframing can change everything.
Brains love to problem-solve, and if you approach a problem like a puzzle or a challenge, you can motivate yourself (or your brain) to get excited to solve it.
Creative Business Constraints
Within your own business, you can set up constraints to focus your thinking and problem solving. These will help you clarify the problem you’re facing, and therefore, help your brain focus its energy on creative solutions.
When you select a niche you want to serve, you automatically set your focus on a subset of customers. The whole premise of picking a niche is that the set of customers in that niche will have many similarities and can be attracted and served in similar ways.
Read more about niche here: Formerly Corporate Business Owners Need to Think About Their Niche
Keeping your focus on your niche can keep you from chasing every opportunity you hear about or buying every shiny new tool. Your brain can ignore most of that noise and instead only focus on things that would be helpful for your niche.
Financial – Price Point & Expense Budget
If you set a constraint of a price point you want to hit or a limit to the expense budget you’re allowed, you think differently than when you can spend wildly. If you have unlimited amounts of money, you don’t have to be creative. But if you’re working within a budget, you might have to come up with a clever way to accomplish something.
Customer Profile or Avatar
Like your niche, your customer profile can be a very helpful constraint. It can help you stay focused as you create content and create products and services. These customers have specific problems and pain points for you to help them with. You don’t have to solve every customer problem ever.
For example, if your customer profile includes women over 40 who want to optimize their investment portfolio, you don’t have to solve the problem of, “how to start investing.”
Read here about creating a customer avatar: A Business-Owning Mom’s Approach to Ideal Customer Avatars
Products and Services Offered
Limit the number of products and services that you offer so that you don’t think about everything in the world available to your customers. Instead of going very wide with services, go deep. Keep your brain focused on creatively improving your product and service offerings.
Category of Business
Are you in the health, wealth, relationship, status, or hobby business? You can use the category of business you want to be in to focus your thinking.
Methods of Delivery
If you limit the methods of delivery, you might have to come up with creative and better solutions for your customers.
During the pandemic, restaurants were forced to limit their food delivery to take-out and delivery. Those that embraced the limitation made it through the pandemic, and some even thrived and grew their business. Those that ignore the constraint or whined about it are no longer here.
When you don’t have another constraint that could make sense, you can always use time.
Limit the time allotted to each task or set a deadline that you know you will stick to.
Embrace Those Constraints
From now on, instead of complaining or ignoring limits, embrace them and use them wisely. With practice, you’ll discover which kinds of constraints can kick-start your creativity. I do think it’s different for everyone.
For example, I really dislike time constraints, and I have trouble using them if they’re not real. But I love the idea of limiting inputs, or working with what’s available right now. You’ll find you own favorites and I encourage you to turn to those when you start to feel stuck on a problem or in a rut with your business.
Your brain is designed to solve problems so you need a problem to solve. You can use constraints to create a specific problem to solve – without them, it’s just a big unknown. You can also break a bigger problem into smaller ones that can be solved sequentially to reduce your stress and overwhelm.
You're a business-owning mom, so you use this guide to prioritize your tasks in 2 minutes, and have 41 minutes left to knock out a task.