LIMITATIONS. None of us like them, yet limitation is the fertile ground in which the seeds of creativity sprout and grow. Without the challenge of limitation, there is no need for creativity. We would never be pushed into seeing things in new ways, because there would be no incentive. When we are limited by circumstance, situation, or supply, we are forced to to work around that barrier in order to accomplish what we want. Challenges, when approached positively, cause us to exercise the muscles of our creative minds.
A few years ago, I taught desktop publishing at a local community college. When giving assignments, I would often limit students to certain themes or designs and then challenge them, within those limitations, to come up with something original. Sometimes I would confine them to only a few colors, as well. The variety of solutions that students created to express some aspect of themselves — their thinking, ways of seeing, or even a sense of humor — was eye-opening. On the other hand, when the assignments were less restrictive, the results were correspondingly less inventive.
Think about your own life. Most of us have experienced at least one time in our lives when we had few limitations and lots of options. When we have too many alternatives, we often find it difficult to choose and end up in a kind of dysfunctional quagmire of indecision. But give us only one or two things to work with, and we are suddenly focused, direct, and actively on the move, making progress. There’s truth to the old sayings that “busy people get the most done” and that “when you have the most things to do, you are the most organized.”
Limited time increases productivity. Limited resources increase creative output. It follows logically, then, that if you want to develop your creative muscles, you need some type of obstacle or constraint. However, in order to work, the constraints must be real — or at least perceived to be real — in order to kick start our creative engines. Like setting the clock five minutes fast to trick ourselves into thinking it’s later than it is, it rarely works, because we know the clock has been moved forward.
However, when life doesn’t hand us a set of limitations, we can and do trick ourselves. For example, some of us do it by procrastinating. We are the types who are more creative and/or productive under pressure. At this point, you might be asking, “How can I limit myself and build my creativity?”
- Write with your opposite hand.
- Do things backwards.
- Work in an unfamiliar location.
- Consciously limit your time, materials, or resources (only paint in shades of yellow, or write a long poem using only 20 different words).
- Make a gourmet meal with only three ingredients and three different herbs or spices.
Limitations: When we feel hemmed in or chafed by a sense of restriction, all we have to do is remember that limitation is a call to action. A challenge to flex our creative muscles and transcend the mediocre.
Try writing about a time you had a creative challenge. What were the limitations you had to overcome? How did you handle that situation, and what was the outcome? Looking back, how do you feel now? Would you do anything differently?