How To Use Constraints To Be More Creative

bike against guard railBeing a creative entrepreneur In a study released by Adobe in 2014, designers and others who work in creative pursuits admitted that their fears included not being up-to-date on current technologies, being unable to reach or maintain financial security, and an inability to keep up with peers. But that’s not all we’re afraid of.

kim werker mighty uglyIn her new book, Make It Mighty Ugly: Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty, author Kim Werker helps creative types tackle another of their most daunting of fears: The fear of failure. By encouraging creative entrepreneurs to overcome their fears and acknowledge that that imperfection is not, as many of us dread, synonymous with failure, Kim seeks to help those who work in creative disciplines to take proactive steps in their career.

This excerpt, from the chapter called “Establish A Regular Practice,” Kim recommends that individuals create their own constrictions.

“Constraints,” she writes “can set creativity free.”

Here’s the excerpt. Be sure to tune into Kim’s CreativeLive class, Embrace the Ugly: How to Break Through What’s Holding You Back in Business.

“I’m interested in almost everything. You’d think this would be a good thing, and it is, if you’re a kid. When you’re a kid, you can feel giddy in the face of the world being open to you in its entirety. As I grew up and started coming up against having to choose what to be most interested in, though, I started to feel plagued. If I enjoyed all my classes in school except for whichever ones were taught by teachers I didn’t like, how was I supposed to choose just one subject to focus on in college? After I eventually managed to choose a major in college, I ended up spending most of my time in graduate school suffocating under the crushing weight of all the paths I hadn’t chosen. Whether you’re inclined, like me, to be a jack-of-all-trades—I try to own the derogatory dilettante—or have known since you were six that there’s only one thing you want to be when you grow up, certainly we can all see the value in having at least some constraints that limit the scope of possibility. Not constraints like draconian regulations and denials of flexibility, but constraints that allow us to narrow our focus enough to see infinite potential in a more manageable set of possibilities. Constraints can set creativity free.

I thrive on working to a deadline. Deadlines keep my imagination in check; I can’t pursue every possible angle if I need to have a coherent piece finished in a week. Deadlines also prevent me from being a perfectionist, even though I’m not usually inclined toward perfectionism. I am, however, inclined to do my best possible work, and I’m well aware that I’m my own worst critic. A deadline forces me to do my best work and then send it off, preventing me from further fiddling or changing course after yet one more early-morning eureka moment.

Constraints force us to focus when we might otherwise be inclined to drift. They limit our resources so we have to apply our ingenuity to achieve our goal. They enable us to let go.

Grab a small camera and keep it with you at all times for a week (your phone camera will do just fine if you don’t want to lug around another device; if you’re camera-shy,* feel free to carry a pencil and paper and sketch what you see). Each day of the week, take three pictures according to the following constraints. It doesn’t matter when you take them, if you take them all at once or if you spread them throughout the day. You don’t need to make art, just take some snapshots (or make some sketches). The goal here is to focus on just doing it, not so much on what the images look like at the end of the week (though having those images may be a wonderful bonus).

DAY ONE: Just take three photos by the end of the day.

DAY TWO: Take three photos of red things.

DAY THREE: Take three photos of living things.

DAY FOUR: Take three photos of moving things.

DAY FIVE: Take three photos of yourself.

DAY SIX: Take three photos of surprises.

DAY SEVEN: Just take three photos by the end of the day.

Now, what was each day like? Were some days easier than others? How did the first and last days, without constraints, compare to the middle days? Did your feelings about taking the photos or sketching the pictures change over the course of the week? Did the quality or tone of your images evolve? Are you left with any thoughts about how you might apply constraints to boost your enjoyment of every- day things?

Flip It Around: Do this again, but make the pictures ugly.

*See what I did there?”

(c) 2014 By Kim Werker. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Make It Mighty Ugly: Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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