Leveraging Constraints for Creativity

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 01-19-11

I have a new post published on Blogging Innovation. See the full article on that site.

by Jamie Flinchbaugh

Creativity remains one of the most nebulous and elusive capabilities for organizational performance. Yet there is more knowledge and science available today than ever to help us through the challenge. Creativity comes from more than just issuing a challenge.

One of the most counterintuitive aspects of the creativity process is the adaptation and leveraging of constraints. Most of us don’t want constraints, and we certainly don’t like constraints. We don’t want to be told when to be finished, what size box it needs to fit into, or what font should be used. We like our freedom. Yet the evidence demonstrates that constraints enhance the creativity process.

On the Harvard Business Review blog, Uri Neren shares some of this data in The Number One Key to Innovation: Scarcity. In it he shares that after a review of 162 methodologies around innovation, one of the most common threads is scarcity. This is especially true in

When working with teams on improvements or projects requiring creativity, we find an important step is providing what we call monuments and commandments. Monuments are those aspects that cannot be moved. The team must work around them. While it is important to let teams know where the monuments are, it is also important that they know where they aren’t. This prevents them from adding false constraints, which can certainly limit the intended result.

Commandments are those aspects that must be part of the solution. There may still be a thousand details that need to be worked out, but some of them are predetermined. This is just another form of constraint.

The addition of monuments and commandments to a team will always initially feel like a burden to the team, but in my experience, they are necessary to prevent wasted effort and increase focus. Both of these factors lead to more creative and more effective solutions out of the team’s effort.