Constraints Improve Creativity


Thu, Nov 17th, 2011 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

Wired Magazine's Jonah Lehrer quotes a new study by University of Amsterdam's Janina Marguc who opines that obstacles come with an unexpected psychological perk: they allow people to think in a more all-encompassing fashion.

From the article:

Daily life is full of obstacles: A construction site blocking the usual road to work, a colleague's background chatter interfering with one's ability to concentrate, a newborn child hindering parents in completing their daily routines, or a lack of resources standing in the way of realizing an ambitious plan. How do people cognitively respond to such obstacles? How do the ways in which they perceive and process information from their environment change when an obstacle interferes with what they want to accomplish? In the present research, we aim to shed light on these questions by investigating the impact of obstacles on global versus local processing. We propose that unless people are inclined to disengage prematurely from ongoing activities, obstacles will prompt them to step back and adopt a more global, Gestalt-like processing style that allows them to look at the "big picture" and conceptually integrate seemingly unrelated pieces of information.

This isn't the first time constraints have been used to expand creativity. LEGO was one of the first companies to force constraints on its designers, noting that it actually improved creativity:

It may sound counterintuitive, but LEGO found that design -- at least within its walls -- thrives with some constraints. That might send chills up the spines of some in the design world. The idea of fencing in designers, forcing them to play in a confined space, runs counter to the notion that design needs to be set free. But the component limits gave designers just enough direction to come up with some of the company's most successful products to date. "If you put guiding principles in place, you empower people to make the right decision," says Smith-Meyerr, who runs LEGO's New Business Group.



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