How To Be Innovative By Restricting Yourself

Creativity and constraints are ideal partners

I recently went to watch The Martian, if you don’t know about the film I’ll do a quick synopsis, but no spoilers I promise.

The Martian and the book with the same title, is about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and is faced with certain death unless he can find ways to survive. And that is the key premise of the film and book, describing how when faced with limited resources he continually innovates to stay alive.

This highlights a point about human nature, when we have less to work with, we can be more creative. We see this throughout history, and in fact when our very survival is at stake we can become very creative. In english we even have a saying for this – necessity is the mother of invention.

Make sure your constraints are intelligent

When faced with coming up with a solution an intelligent constraint actually forces us to create solutions within defined boundaries.

A well defined goal can be all we need, for example in the 1990’s NASA’s goal was to land a rover on Mars in half the time and with a tenth of the budget of the previous mission. Or a well-defined problem statement – “City centre transport is congested and needs improving” becomes “We need to reduce traffic volume within 5 kms of the city centre by 50%, while increasing economic turnover by 5%”

Working within funding requires us to develop and present innovative ideas that achieve significant impact. Next time you are faced with such a challenge, perhaps try to constrain yourself by tightening your problem statement or really defining your goals.

An intelligent constraint informs creative action by defining the boundaries within which people can play and guides that action. It also helps us to decide what to ignore and what to include. Creativity isn’t just for artists and dreamers, we can all be creative, it is just a matter of providing the right environment.

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