410: The Power of Limitations and Constraints: Breeding Creativity

Over the past several months, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of changes and, as a result, we have experienced a lot of constraints, both personally and corporately. 

I have witnessed many times where these constraints have led to various creative solutions.

Schools have done parades instead of traditional graduation ceremonies. While this isn’t an ideal solution for the graduates, it was at least a way to celebrate the accomplishments. I live out in the country and a nearby small town had the whole town involved, where there may normally have been less community involvement.

While many small businesses have had to close for a period of time and suffered a lot, other businesses have had to rethink how they can operate while under the legal limitations. My wife and I recently went to a restaurant, and found out we could pay the bill through our phone – no need for a paper check or using the Ziosk machine.

Churches have worked to come up with alternative ways to gather. While many churches utilized streaming services online more – and adapting better ways of doing this – some churches started having parking lot services where everyone stayed in their vehicles. My church is one that did this – we had only online services for a few weeks, and then we started meeting in the parking lot. A few weeks ago, we started having indoor services, but increased sanitation practices and sat in every other pew.

I think about the movie Apollo 13. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m sorry for any spoilers here. When the shuttle experienced an electric malfunction and the CO2 filter stopped working, an extreme situation was created. There was an option to make some modifications, but they were faced with having to connect the proverbial round peg in a square hole. It may have been the other way around, but close enough. The scientists back on earth were gathered and a box of miscellaneous parts were thrown on a table. The leader said, “We have to make this fit into this, using only these parts.” And they only had a very short amount of time before the toxicity level got too high. Spoiler alert – they were able figure it out and save the astronauts.

Scientific studies about constraint

So, as I’ve been thinking about this idea of constraints breeding creativity, I found 2 articles, from Inc Magazine and the Harvard Business Review.

The Harvard Business Review article, they conducted a survey and found that individuals, teams, and organizations benefited from a healthy dose of constraints.

The Inc Magazine article said that we actually need constraints to get good at creating something remarkable.

Both articles go on to explain how constraints can help by forcing you to work with less so you can actually begin to see the world differently. They even talk about how new inventions and business practices have been inspired through various constraints.

Too much constraint

Both articles do mention that too much constraint can dampen creativity. In other words, there’s a point of diminishing return.

So it’s like chocolate – a little bit is good, but too much isn’t good for you.

Creating (or using) constraints to you benefit

Here are some ways you can use constraints:

  1. Limit inputs (time, human resources, funds, materials, etc.)
  2. Enforce specific processes (lean start-up model, agile management, etc.)
  3. Set specific output requirements

These came from the Harvard Business Review article and have a slant toward the business usage of this, but we can apply these to our personal lives as well. Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How can you create a garden when you have little to no yard to work with?
  • How can you declutter and organize your house when it seems like you have more stuff than space? (By the way, I love seeing this type of show, like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.)
  • How can you make your budget work when you lose 25% of your family income?

What’s really important here?

Facing constraints really makes you evaluate what is actually important and necessary vs what is nice to have.

When you start prioritizing things and you only have limited resources, it causes you to look at your situation differently.

I remember hearing a lot of examples on Dave Ramsey’s show. Dave would have people call in and do a debt-free scream. With this, they would share their story of how they paid off their debt. They got to the point where they realized the limitations they had to pay the debt and, after evaluating their priorities, they made some changes to actually start paying off the debt. Usually, they would start cutting unnecessary things out of their budget (bye-bye cable company). Sometimes they would sell some things or get a part-time job to bring in a little extra money. But, everytime, it seemed difficult or impossible when they started, but they saw that they would have to make changes, and, over time, made a big difference. And then it usually creates lasting changes and differences in the way they view their money and lives.

How can you create and use constraints in your life?

I want to encourage you to really think about this and see what differences you can make in your life.