A Beautiful Constraint


What if you could view the limitations on your creative work as inspirations?

I recently read A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. They do an excellent job of breaking down some strategies to turn limitations into inspirations.

The most powerful thing in the book for me was the stages you work through when faced with a new constraint.

As first, they thought they had identified three different personality types when it comes to reacting to a new difficulty.

Victim: Someone who lowers their ambition when faced with a constraint.

Neutralizer: Someone who refuses to lower their ambition, but finds a different way to deliver the ambition instead.

Transformer: Someone who finds a way to use the constraint as an opportunity, possibly even increasing their ambition along the way.

But, they soon realized that the people with the Transformer personality type also went through being a Victim and Neutralizer. The other people were getting stuck in an earlier part of the process. So, the question became, how do you move through the stages and get to being a Transformer?

For me, defining the territory so clearly provides a map to move forward. Getting a new constraint makes it easy to be a victim. To limit or completely stop our plans because we’re not going to get to do exactly what we thought we were going to do. But, what if our goal was to turn that limitation into a opportunity to improve the final product?

In the book, they cite a study that showed if you build a playground in the middle of a large open field the children playing in it will cluster in the middle. If you build a fence around the field, they will use the whole space. In an open field, it feels safer to be close to the other kids, while a contained area allows you to roam free.

Is there a place in your life where your stuck at the victim stage? Where there’s something that you’d like to do, but you’ve let some constraint stop you from even trying?

Can you take that constraint and turn it into an opportunity to make the final product more unique and possibly even improved?

Even better, can you impose your own constraint that leads to you to something new?

What if you only had 15 minutes to write a poem? What if you wrote a short story where none of the sentences could have more than 10 words? What if you could only paint with supplies you found at thrift shops? What if you wrote a novel that didn’t use the letter “e”?

3 responses

  1. I have long thought about the positive value of constraints in creativity. Being limited in resources (of whatever type) can push us to use what’s available more completely. Thanks for the book review.


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