Creativity thrives under constraints, but many creative ideas break through limitations and explore uncharted territories. The playful tension between defining constraints, working within them, and breaking them is an engine for generating creative ideas.
Draw the Lines
Think of a challenge with no straightforward solution — where you really need a creative idea to break through. Now, draw the lines around the challenge.
Define the boundaries of the problem: what are the constraints and limitations you consider to be fixed? Don’t describe all the bits and bytes of the challenge — draw only the perimeter of your playground.
Write down a description of the lines you’ve sketched in your mind and discuss them with others. Maybe some of them are not really constraints. Maybe there are others you have ignored.
Play Within the Lines
Drawing the lines around your challenge has two key benefits. First, it defines your playground. When you know where to play, you feel free to play. As long as you are within the lines, you feel safe to explore and experiment.
No less important is that within the lines, there are infinite possibilities and opportunities. Anything you didn’t explicitly define as a constraint is possible and therefore introduces a playful opportunity.
Play with anything that comes to mind. Don’t dismiss any idea if it is not explicitly outside the boundaries of your playground. Not every idea will work eventually, but the more ideas you generate, the better your chances of finding the one that will be your breakthrough.
Play Outside the Lines
As long as you are exploring the playground and generating creative ideas, remember that your boundaries might be real, but they might also result from bias, false assumptions, or paradigms that ought to be changed. You might just be able to stretch some of them.
Try playing outside the lines you’ve sketched. Challenge the constraints. Break them. Explore the area just outside them. The best creative ideas might be close to the boundaries of your playground but from the other side.
When you generate ideas, note if they are within the boundaries you have sketched or which boundaries you had to cross. When you later analyze the feasibility of the collected ideas, you will have an opportunity to revisit the definition of these boundaries and maybe re-sketch them for future challenges.