onsdag den 4. september 2013

Constrained Innovation


My claim is that when you constrain people it fosters creativity. Let us dive into some exciting examples.

Danish Dogme

Lars von Trier made a complete fool of himself by throwing the dogme manifesto at participants of the Cannes festival in 1995. The idea was to constrain moviemaking with a set rules (Dogme 95). The hope was to catch a glimpse of reality. This set of rules started the Dogme film trend. Together with his three "disciples" the dogme-brothers made the movies: Idioterne, Mifunes sidste sang, Festen and The King Is Alive. This trend made movie-makers around the world rethink movie-making and at a point, it was almost considered inappropriate to not make handheld movies. I am a big von Trier fan so I could babble on about his greatness for a while but I will spare you :-)

Kashmir's constraints experiences

I'm also a big Kashmir and Kasper Eistrup fan. Kashmir's latest album E.A.R was created with a set of rules around the magic number 12. The rules were:

A. Record the album within 12 months
B. 12 tracks
C. 12 Instruments (max)
D. Release-date: 2012-12-12

At first you would assume that these constraints would make the creative process of writing music stop. It actually had the exact opposite effect! The rules resulted in the band having a lot of extra tracks (rule B violated). Reviewers loved the album which was released 2013-18-03 (rule D violated). Actually, I reckon, that the band only fulfilled two of the rules at the end, namely rule B and C. A danish blogger describes this process beautifully - Ørevoks


Another example of how constraining people makes them more creative, is team building games like mashmellow-towerbuilding (The mashmellow challenge). My experience is, that these constraints make people extra creative and, if lucky, there is chance that this bubbling creativity lead to ideas. Ideas which in the end, if even more lucky, lead to innovation and when the probability approaches the improbable it might also lead to business value.

One of the talks, I still remember, from the GOTO Copenhagen 2012 conference was the Playmaking - Transforming Work Through Play talk by Portia Tung. The talk was designed with a bunch of games and she concluded that gaming is necessary for human beings. I could not agree more. When my life becomes dull, it is typically because the "play vs. no-play" ratio of daily activities is to low.

Boiling ideas

In conclusion

All the above exemplifies the general thesis, that when you constrain people it fosters creativity. The illustration above is my (best effort :-) attempt to illustrate what happens, when you place two professors in a large tea pot and start boiling the water. Hopefully they come up with an idea that prevents slow and painful death.

At this year's GOTO conference in Aarhus, I am looking forward to The beauty of Constraints, Faruk Altes talk. My hope is that Faruk will enlighten me further on this subject or even better he will surprise by talking about something (completely) different.

1 kommentar:

Unknown sagde ...

I agree that constraints foster creativity. Another example: in my days as a univeristy researcher I often saw interresting papers resulting from cooperation between researchers and people from the "real world", who would present the researchers with a problem that could not be altered to fit the solution, that would first come to mind. I think constraints often force you to work harder. Sometimes you would even see that the solution would also work without the constraints -- that it would be a solution to a more general problem.

It will be interesting to hear about especially the arbitrary constraints Faruk Ates have tried out. I can easily imagine some I would have a hard time selling to our customers: The project must be coded using only the left hand, in visual basic. Other arbitrary constraints the customer really likes though: the project must result in a web service. Maybe not all constraints foster creativity :-)