from Innovative Leader
Volume 9, Number 11
Freeing Effect of Limitations
by Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Newman-Carrasco is CEO of Enlace Communications, Inc., a Los
Angeles based advertising and communications firm specializing in
targeting the US Hispanic consumer (phone 310-440-5363; fax
310-472-4099; email@example.com). She is a playwright,
stand-up comic and lecturer on the subject of creativity.
"Think outside the box."
"The skyís the limit."
"There are no bad ideas."
"Donít hold back"
Creative freedom. Isnít that what itís all about? No rules. No
systems. No perspiration. Just inspiration. Isnít that what
separates great creative thinkers from us mere mortals? Think
again. Would it surprise you to discover that limitations are what
provide the friction that generates the energy from which great
ideas are born? "Friction?" you say. "But isnít
creativity meant to be stress-free and without any blocks or
boundaries?" Actually, creating requires resistance since
most creativity comes from a "need." And, more often
than not, thereís an obstacle preventing that need from being
Sadly, there has been a lot of "myth-information" about
the subject of creativity. And, like many myths, we have come to
accept them as truths. As a result, we latch on to these ideas and
believe that, given all the freedom in the world, the failure to
create is a personal failure. We blame ourselves when we are
unable to come up with new ideas or are unable to motivate others
to be creative. But, in fact, we are not to blame. We are simply
ďmyth-informedĒ and need some creative guidance and
discipline--the kind actors use when they vigorously rehearse a
play, musicians use when they study scales over and over again,
and poets use when they limit themselves to a defined structure of
verse. The first challenge we face, is to allow ourselves to
"exhale," letting go of existing notions and allowing
room to fill our brains back up with new ways of looking at old
familiar things. Take a deep breath right now. In order to allow
new air in, what do you have to do? Exhale, right? (OK you can
exhale.) Get the message? New ideas only come in when you let a
few old ones out.
Letís look at the myths. Youíve probably heard most of them:
Myth #1: The creative process is magical and canít be explained.
Myth #2: Rules are the enemy of creativity.
Myth #3: Creativity is only for dreamers and people who would
rather play than work.
Myth #4: Creativity should be tension-free.
Myth #5: The key to creativity is thinking outside the box.
Letís focus on the last one--thinking outside the box.
Highly overrated when you stop to consider the roles boxes
have played in creative arenas like theater, the arts, and
advertising. For what
is the stage, the page, the canvas or the TV if not various forms
of boxes Ė inside of which some of the greatest creative ideas
have been conceived and captured. Boxes are a creativeís best
friend, for they provide a framework. And, to quote the poet T.S.
Eliot, "When forced to work within a strict framework, the
imagination is taxed to its utmost ≠ and will produce its richest
ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl."
Thinking Inside The Box
When things are left too open, vague and ambiguous; when the
creative process lacks the right degree of definition and
specifics, the mind wanders down destructive rather than
constructive paths. Rather than attack a creative problem and seek
a creative solution, it searches for meaning, enters a state of
worry, which ultimately leads to one of creativityís greatest
inhibitors of all--the dreaded procrastination. Ironically,
freedom to come up with anything
is more likely to translate into fears that lead to coming up with
approaches creativity as "an open field," as opposed to
a discipline defined by selective rather than random thinking,
another creativity inhibitor raises its ugly head. Judging voices
enter the picture. Whether they are the critics in your head
(often voices of parents, teachers and others from our past) or
the critics in your office, they are certain to prey on vulnerable
minds floating in a black hole of endless possibilities.
If you get a
blank piece of paper and are instructed to draw
"something" or "anything" or "whatever
pops into your head," how do you feel? How about if you get
that same piece of paper and youíre asked to draw a picture of
your favorite memory from your last vacation? How does that feel?
Sure, those of us that donít draw hate the whole exercise. But,
if you put drawing ability aside, it is common to feel less
anxiety, less confusion and less self doubt when the instructions
include information about the subject matter. By adding that one
piece of information, no one is taking away anyoneís creativity.
No one is saying exactly what you need to draw or how you need to
draw it or what the picture should or shouldnít have in it. You
are simply being given some limitations so that you can work
toward a goal and so that creative energy can be generated as you
immediately begin to search your mindís eye for the memory you
would like to draw and the techniques you want to use to
illustrate that moment.
So, donít be afraid of boxes. Just remember, they are three
dimensional. They have depth, width and height, all of which are
there to be explored. So, rather than thinking outside of the box,
how about thinking inside of the box for a change? Remember, being
creative isnít about staying on the surface because itís safe
and familiar. Itís about diving in and making choices of
inclusion and exclusion.
Magic or Manageable?
As you think about the other myths, remember that while it is true
that creation is magic, the creative process is manageable. To put
it simply, we remain in awe of the miracle of birth but we are
pretty clear on the kind of work we need to do (or fun we need to
have) if we plan to make a baby. And, in terms of there being no
rules, remember that great creatives study principles and master
the form. Breaking the rules requires knowing them by heart. Read
about Leonardo DaVinci or other creative minds for further
understanding of how much discipline and respect for structure it
takes to free your mind to create. Ask any truly creative
individual and they will assure you that creativity is as much
about work as it is about play.
So, the next time youíre asked to "get creative," find
a way for the group to "get specific." Work with a
creative brief. Send out some information in advance of a
brainstorming session with background and objectives. Work with
exercises that can help a group focus their efforts on a common
goal. Bring some limitations into the process so that people can
be productive and really have some fun.