Constraint Kick Starts Creativity

Complete this sentence: I could do more if I had….

Many of us would fill in the blank with words like these:  money, time, bigger house, better job, different spouse.  There are many externals that we naturally think of as constraints, boundaries on our ability to achieve, to get ahead, to succeed.

Time to re-frame.  Consider that these constraints are but a catalyst for becoming more creative about the possibilities sitting before you. In fact, I contend, almost every innovation or breakthrough comes because of a constraint, forcing you to think in different ways.

Like the three young girls I met last weekend. Listen to their story.

The girls are in a family that is experiencing financial challenges. The twins, age 15, want to go to the mall, the movies, to shop. Their mom, a quite wise woman, told them that they can do those things but they must figure out how to pay for them. Babysitting? Um, they’d be more comfortable if they did that together but that would mean splitting the money, Nope.  After deliberation, they came upon an idea: a Cooking Camp in the neighborhood.  A $40 investment got the “cooking campers” two days in the kitchen. They made aprons, learned the hygiene that precedes cooking, followed recipes, and walked home with cakes and the twins got to the mall.

Not to be outdone, five-year-old baby sister decided she could make money selling balloon animals at the twins sporting events. With her big sisters’ help, she found a $5 book on how to make balloon animals, bought the air pump and the balloons on a loan from mom, and set up her stand. She even made a tip jar! When asked what she could make, she proudly insisted, “ a doggie, a panda, and a cat.”  Truth be told, the balloon animals all looked alike but how can you resist a darling now-six year-old who proclaims she is “self-taught”.

Think how many innovations and ideas have come because of boundaries, of people or circumstances that seemed to say “no”.  The Wright Brothers defied the boundary of gravity. The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots WWII (WASP) defied the boundary of gender to fly for the military. Roger Bannister defied the boundary of a four-minute mile run. The list is endless.

Here are four steps when confronting constraints that “appear” to limit your possibilities.

  1. Ask “what else can I do”?

And persist at least five times with this question, refining the answers as you speak.  A colleague in Berkley was turned down on her initial bid to buy house. She had no more money to offer. She kept asking herself, ‘What else could I offer?”  Despite other offers of hard cash that exceeded her amount, when she threw in some gold coins, an offer to introduce the couple to the police chief where they would be moving, and generously said the young family could return and have a reunion in their starter home, Jesse got the house.  “What else?” is a powerful question.

  1. Who can help you?

Tremendous wisdom and connections exist in the universe but only if we seek them. For the WASP WWII, the founder Jacqueline Cochran had to ask for help from Col. Hap Arnold.  Kickstarter campaigns are marvelous examples of asking for financial help from the universe and depending upon the goal. Coolest Cooler, ten years in the making, became one of the largest Kickstarter success stories. The cooler comes in three colors and includes several features, including a USB port, waterproof speakers, a bottle opener, and storage for food as well as plates and utensils.

  1. Do you really want to do this?

Notice that Coolest Cooler was TEN YEARS in the making. While my three girls achieved their modest goals in a summer, bigger constraints can require plenty of emotion energy and stamina. How much determination and energy How will do you have to keep going regardless of the constraints?

How will you celebrate small wins? Whenever we buck the system, try and push out boundaries, Success is not always huge. It can be very many small steps that all need to be celebrated. My precious young one with her balloons is now learning to make a snake and a magic sword, She can expand her creativity because those around her cheered her three “different balloon animals” and her willingness to stand in the hot sun and sell her creations-- even if they did look alike