Constraints and Creativity – schools of thought

by Peter Cook

Constraints and Creativity - schools of thoughtConstraints and Creativity - schools of thoughtThere is a school of thought that says that creativity is enhanced by having all the resources you need. There is an equal and opposite view that suggests that limitations can be the spur to creativity. It is to this view that I want to turn. Starting with the gypsy jazz musician Django Reinhardt:

Tony Iommi accidentally ‘copied’ Django’s loss after an accident in a sheet metal factory where he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. Inspired by Reinhardt, Iommi made plastic covers for his fingers by melting plastic bottles and dipping them in while the plastic was soft enough to be shaped.

The parallel business innovation lesson from my background in pharmaceuticals is that many of the world’s breakthrough therapies were not discovered in sterile glass corporate buildings, but often in rather unpromising conditions, by people who had been starved of budget, resources and attention by the corporate centre. I’m not suggesting that this should become a modus operandi for running innovative businesses. Just that sometimes opulence does not produce the conditions where people give that extra effort that leads to innovative breakthroughs.

At a personal level, give someone all s/he needs and he may use those resources to come up with something ingenious. Tell him or her that it’s impossible or there isn’t time and they might spend a lot more effort proving you wrong. Clearly this is not an absolute truth in all circumstances, but it’s widely ignored.

For Iommi fans, see Tony’s current website.

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Peter Cook is Rock’n’Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.  He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy or Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. and  You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock

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  1. This line of thinking about a problem has been a key part of the “TRIZ” ( Inventive Problem Solving) problem solving process for over 50 years. It’s known as “trimming”. We arbitrarily (or maybe something that has high cost or manintenance, etc.) remove a part of a system, product, or process and then force ourselves to achieve the same function with what’s left. It’s a powerful, structured way of doing what is described in this article and TRIZ folks have been doing it for decades!

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