Creativity Loves Constraints


I love the TV show Chopped.

The one where chef contestants are faced with a mystery basket of ingredients. How about a main dish starring rack of venison, dulse seaweed, gooseberry preserves and Fruit Loops cereal?

It’s wholly about process, about creation within a limited range of possibilities – and the reality of working within, or challenging, or expanding conventions of aesthetic standards of what’s good or appealing.

Oh, and there’s a time limit. And it’s competitive.

Whether you’ve been in this PR/agency business for 30 years or three, most of us have bristled at, or been frustrated by constraints. When we are working within budget, deadline, legal, regulatory, media or client-imposed boundaries, it is easy to yearn for blue-sky opportunities – where the sky is the limit. “If only we could get a week to think blue sky, we could do amazing things.”

If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time

Thanks Zig Ziglar. Embracing some parameters and sharpening our focus is what this is about.

“Paradoxically, when people are given free reign to solve a problem, they tend to be wholly uncreative, focusing on what’s worked best in the past.” According to creativity researcher Patricia Stokes, “such freedom can hinder solving the creativity problem, whereas the strategic use of constraints can promote solving the creativity problem. By using constraints, reliable responses are precluded and novel surprising ones are encouraged.” Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough by Patricia D. Stokes

Just filling out the creative brief.

So the expression of “filling out” a creative brief should fill all of us with dread. When we write a creative brief, we’re not filling out a form where when the blanks are full the work is complete. We’re crafting the story of our client’s product and its reason to exist and thrive in the world. This is the first, and arguably the most important creative act of the entire process. It often requires serious effort and a relentless pursuit to get to true insights. A truly motivating insight is a secret bit of knowledge that you have about your target audience that you can exploit to make them do your bidding.

Psychographics – Yes it is important to know the demographics of our audience, but can we really nail the psychographics of our ideal prospect? How about their beliefs and biases and loves and hates? This is where resonance hides.

What about the time investment?

Taking the time to develop an insightful brief actually speeds the creative process. It clears up misunderstandings even before the project begins. Presentations are more successful when they are anchored in strategy based on an approved brief. The approval process is shorter because strategy is clear and confidence is higher.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I’d spend 55 minutes determining the question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in 5 minutes.” – Albert Einstein

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