Producing Results Blog

Innovation LOVES Contraints!

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It sounds counterintuitive, but creativity and innovation LOVE constraints!

I discovered this first-hand during the 15 years that I produced the longest-running, highest-rated, and most award-winning regional comedy TV show in the United States. Here’s just one example: One day, we had the opportunity to tape a comedy sketch with Michael Jordan (this is when he was still playing with the Bulls). But there were some constraints: we had only a 5-minute window with MJ, the sketch would have to be shot in his hotel room, and our 5-minute window began in just 90 minutes.

Those are some pretty severe constraints, right? But my team of writers jumped on it, because they knew EXACTLY what they needed to do. They had clear-cut parameters; but they had unlimited creativity WITHIN those parameters. We ended up writing a great parody endorsement of our TV show (which we then ran ad nauseam because hey, it’s Michael Jordan!). Incidentally, MJ was totally into it (turns out he was familiar with our show), and generously gave us much more of his time than the allotted 5 minutes.

Creativity and innovation LOVE constraints.

You can prove this for yourself. Find one of your creative friends. [Note: If you don’t have any creative friends…what can I say?…you need to get out more. And if that doesn’t work, don’t worry—I’LL be your friend.] Now tell her that you want her to write a story about either (and she gets to choose):

1. anything she wants; or,
2. a duck who wears a hat.

My very strong guess is that she’ll choose number 2 in a heartbeat. I mean, c’mon—be honest—you’ve already started writing the story in your head, haven’t you? Why is the duck wearing a hat? What kind of hat is it? Is it job-related? Who is this duck, and where did he get the hat in the first place?

You see what I mean? Creative people LOVE it when they have a challenge into which they can sink their creative teeth. In fact, that may be the determining difference: YOU (the leader) see it as a constraint; THEY (the creative innovators) see it as a challenge.

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About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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