Outside your creative comfort zone

It may seem to afford the opposite of freedom, but embracing constraints can boost creativity

It’s most commonly used to describe writers, musicians and artists, but creativity – cultivating fresh ideas and aiding them through conception to execution – is a human trait used pretty much every day by everyone. If you’ve ever solved a problem (and chances are you’ve already done this more than once today alone), you’ve exercised your creativity. And it’s very likely you had to operate within certain constraints, whether self-imposed or externally applied.

In the workplace, external constraints might relate to time, funding, policies and company procedures. Self-imposed constraints, on the other hand, could involve specific design challenges, working with a restricted toolset or in a makeshift environment. What both sets of constraints share is the possibility to trigger unique ideas, to boost productivity and to create a sense of fulfilment.

Create your own constraints

The next time you start a project or find you have a sudden creative block, consider adding a constraint. It’s important it creates a challenge or takes you out of your comfort zone. Here are a few you could try, but feel free to venture off-path or experiment with restrictions that could spur on that next big idea.

Use time as a guide

Time can be used in many ways – the most common is to set a deadline. This is useful for both professional and personal work. For your next project, consider setting a deadline for the final result. You could even set timings for each stage of your work.

Change your environment

Restrict yourself to painting at the park, designing in a coffee shop or writing in a museum. Changing your surroundings can alter your level and type of creativity. It removes the safety blanket of your go-to environment and provides fresh sights, sounds and smells that may inspire fresh perspective.

Switch tools

Comfortable using Adobe Illustrator? Use Photoshop. Happy with your PC? Use pen and paper. Switching tools can take you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to master a new skill, which will expand your capabilities for future projects.

Creative challenge

Forming a creative challenge can be enlightening and prove valuable throughout a project. You could, for example, restrict yourself to using only three images per design; to write a story with only 50 words; to build a chair with only curves. Make it as easy or as difficult as you want. It’s your creative challenge.

Words: Kate Schuyler

This article was originally published under the title ‘Paint by numbers’ in Issue 18 – Great expectations

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