How Limitations Can Kick-Start Creativity

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One phrase that often comes up in discussions about dream jobs is "creative freedom." Many workers feel the restrictions placed on them at work are killing their creativity, and only when those constraints are lifted will their true genius shine through. This way of thinking is seductive, but according to TED-Ed, it's not necessarily accurate. As the video below demonstrates, total freedom can end up stalling the creative process.

Most people are familiar with the blank page effect: that feeling of mental paralysis that grips you when you sit down to write something from scratch. This phenomenon can strike artists, scientists, engineers, or anyone else beginning a new project. Fortunately, there’s an easy way around the imagination block.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, introducing obstacles to your path forces you to look at the bigger picture. They may seem annoying at first, but confronting these snags jump-starts your problem-solving skills and allows you to see solutions you may have ignored otherwise. The authors use the formula of sonnets as an example:

The artificial requirements of the sonnet are just another cognitive obstacle, a hurdle that compels the mind to think in a more holistic fashion. Unless poets are stumped by their art, unless they are forced to look beyond the obvious associations, they’ll never invent an original line … because poets need to find a rhyming word with exactly three syllables, or an adjective that fits the iambic scheme, they end up uncovering all sorts of unexpected associations.

Limitations on creativity are already a part of the daily routine for many workers. In that case, be grateful next time your boss is picky about what he or she wants from an assignment: Those hurdles may lead to your next stroke of brilliance.

[h/t TED-Ed]