It’s Saturday, and that means it’s Editor’s Choice. I’m free from the constraints of themes today, to write about whatever I want. Free! I can let my imagination run. Freeeeee!
[Blinking cursor on screen for several minutes.]
Zero constraints. That’s a lot of freedom. It’s a paralyzing amount of self-will. No rules? No boundaries? Where do I start?
We’re in a period of time when everything is about containment: we’re being contained in order to contain the spread of infection. Hemmed in, controlled, we feel stifled.
Yet for many, too much freedom can be stifling, because it creates overwhelm. When you can go in any direction, which way should you go? Often what overwhelms us is not the idea of choice, but fear of paying for the consequences of that choice. More often than not, we’ll just stand there, calculating that unknown, rather than stepping out into it.
For creatives, the same can also apply. Telling us to think “outside the box” can potentially shut our creative brain right down. If you’re not a creative professional, you might think this is counter-intuitive. Isn’t the very definition of creative thinking operating in a limitless world where anything goes?
Is it? Sure, for the rare genius who lives in his or her own universe. For the rest of us mortals, having a set of parameters helps our brains create. Think about it: creativity is largely problem-solving. Even an abstract artist is making strategic choices. Steve Jobs, who many call a creative genius, didn’t pull his ideas from “out there somewhere.” His products, which completely redefined personal computing, started with an idea born of a problem—an unsatisfactory PC product—and design had to constantly innovate around a series of challenges: funding, technological limitations, market viability. The more constraints put on Jobs, the better the innovation (and yes, the larger the tantrums, but geniuses are allowed. That’s what I tell my friends, anyway.).
Creativity is not about thinking outside the box; it’s pushing the limits of that box from within, creating your way out. Yes, right now we are confined but that shouldn’t stifle us. Confinement presents problems and challenges, and that’s an ideal environment for innovation and reinvention.
Limits aren’t always bad. They can create a sense of security, define our direction (just ask a dog trainer, or a parent). Limits can also lay down the gauntlet for creative ideas, challenging us to MacGyver a better world from our current situation. It’s logical: when you can’t go out, you grow up.
See, that? I managed to fill a whole page by focusing in on my problem, and using it as a jumping off point. After that, the ideas flowed.
Get caught up on my diary, here.
Tip of the day
Have the creative itch, but don’t consider yourself a creative person? Remember what I talked about: creativity is problem solving. That means everyone can be creative (even you). Start with something you do well (that’s your tool box), and challenge yourself to improve on that (there’s your parameter). Love to cook? Take a favorite recipe and create an innovation for it: ingredient substitutions (there are shortages right now, for example); adaptations based on dietary needs; swank it up or pare it down. How many versions of the same recipe can you come up with based on various limitations? There’s a cookbook in there somewhere.
Funny you mentioned Jobs, since he’s the first one who came to mind when I saw your post title. I like that he wore basically the same outfit all the time so he didn’t have to choose, and could focus on the choices that really mattered.
I was at a workshop run by Eric Maisel, at which he said that each choice we make as a creative can create existential angst because it means we’re cutting off other avenues, i.e. as a writer, if I choose a certain word or to have a character react in a certain way, it cuts off my other choices. So the key is to know what you want to achieve, that it has meaning, then have every decision move towards that.
Exactly! Define parameters: what is the reader takeaway, the story theme; where does it need to go? It helps you to make peace with your choices when they serve a mission. Otherwise, you’re just diddling about in a creative kiddie pool.