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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Creativity, Innovation and the Power of Constraints

When most individuals and teams are asked what they need to do better in their organization, the response usually centers not having enough. Not enough time, money, people and tools to get the job done. All of this translates into FREEDOM. I once facilitated a group of upper management in which their sole reply when being asked what they needed was freedom. What my experience has taught me in facilitating and through observation and my life experience is that freedom in its infinite forms is not what people want. Rather, it is the freedom to choose. And the list of options cannot be infinite.

The most successful innovation and creative applications are always bound by constraints – choices we make among a series of finite options which define the playing field from which we execute our work. The examples are many:

Artists choose a canvas or a wall or a blob of clay from which they, bound by physical constraints, produce inspiring works of art.

What would a football game look like without end zones, yard markers and out of bound lines?

The inventor, Thomas Edison, did not invent the light bulb. He did, however, invent the light bulb that was long lasting and affordable meeting the needs of a mass market.

Within all of these constraints, incredible amounts of creativity and innovative thinking have been poured and have flourished successfully within a field of play.

And while people en masse are self governing, when constraints are eliminated through natural disaster, government breakdown, or sanctions and regulations redrawn to a point that the end zones and out of bounds lines are somewhere in the foggy distance – anarchy ensues. We need to have freedom within guidelines that allow expansive thinking and actions, but guidelines nonetheless that allow us a field of play with which to focus our energies.

Tell me what you think. How do you define freedom?

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