In 2019, Harvard Business Review did a comprehensive survey and compilation of 145 empirical studies from academic journals on the conditions that support creativity and innovation. And they discovered something very counterintuitive.
It turns out that we do our best inventive thinking when we think inside the box.
The box itself spurs us on to come up with solutions we never would have considered if we had the complete freedom we think we want. This is the phenomenon of “creative constraints,” and scientists have been finding very consistent results on the positive effects of creative constraints on human innovation.
Why do they work?
Creative constraints take the focus of our thinking from wide to narrow, and the creative challenge increases our motivation to innovate. Having endless options both increases our decision fatigue and makes us want to default to the most obvious, path-of-least-resistance answer.
(Side note: the psychological peril of endless options doesn’t only refer to overwhelm when looking at 5000 Amazon choices for a can opener. It’s also why online dating can increase alienation. We do better with fewer choices in a lot of arenas in life.)
Creative constraints drive people to become remix artists, pulling in multiple unexpected sources, methods, and ideas to create solutions that remain within the confined boundaries.
Now this isn’t an infinite phenomenon–too many or too harsh constraints start to limit creativity. Companies such as Google and Apple deliberately orchestrate and carefully calibrate constraints to stimulate innovation.
Think about the famous scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA ground crew literally has to make a square peg fit into a round hole to create a carbon dioxide scrubber using only non-essential equipment already onboard the imperiled spaceship. They thought they couldn’t do it, but knowing that their colleagues’ lives depended on it, they used those very strict constraints to spur their creativity, using what seemed like a few extra pieces of junk on the rocket to make a life-saving device.
People are more willing to accept and even enjoy working within constraints if they feel supported and feel like they have others to lean on and collaborate with. There’s a lesson for Christian community in that last point that we probably want to keep in our back pocket as we explore this further.
For us post-modern thinkers, it can be difficult sometimes to understand the value of some if not many of the texts of the Bible. Why do we keep anchoring ourselves in this ancient, outdated text?
Because God has used it to spark creativity within restriction.Continue reading