Creativity in containers

Creativity is often visualized as birds set free and as wild horses roaming a countryside. This mythos has merit but is also part of the problem.

For those in all industries, creativity is often sparked not by having a blank slate and unlimited freedom but by needing to work within a set of rules. Creativity can emerge from the absence of rules and by the containers created by them.

Those first studying Shakespeare, for example, are typically amazed both by the creativity of his writing and the strict literary rules in which he worked.

And most founders in the business world, of course, are forced to be creative within all sorts of containers—be it laws or budgets.

When I taught creative writing, I often told my students that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Curiosity block, however, does exist, and one way of breaking through it is by containerizing your creativity.

I recently participated in a class titled “Applied Innovation.” Had we been told to come up with a startup idea on the spot many of us would have blankly stared at our notebooks.

But when the professor handed us a toothbrush and told a story about how Colgate had a massive surplus and needed to find creative new uses for this toothbrush, our collective genius came to life.

Within 20 minutes we came up with over 15 ideas, from global philanthropic and marketing campaigns to melting the plastic down to form new household appliances.

If you’re struggling to bring creativity into your work, think about intentionally confining it. If you’re already confined, strive to see those confines not as barriers but as springboards.

You may give rise to your best idea as a result.

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