Music has many rules. Most of the time these rules provide invaluable scaffolding that supports the development of emotive ideas. Sometimes, however, the familiar framework gets in the way and stifles creativity. My jazz guitar coach often used to espouse the virtues of deliberately limiting your options to encourage a creative fluency. He’d say things like “now you can only use the D and G strings” or “riff on 3s, 7s and 9s only” or “play a substitute for every other chord”. It’s tricky of course because it means you’ve got think more instead of relying on well-rehearsed patterns. Having said that, the result is usually worth it. They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ so why not consider deliberately constraining your choices and see what that inspires for you.
Sometimes there are just too many options and you need a way to hone them down to a more manageable bunch. Maybe you’ve just got ‘thinkers block’ and need a spark from leftfield. Alternatively, reaching for a tried and tested approach can seem like the only way to go. As hinted above, there’s a certain allure in that sense of familiarity.
Either way, applying some ambitious constraints to the situation can really shake things up. In my experience there are always a few familiar constraints associated with tight schedules, desired performance and available resources but I’m advocating looking beyond these. Ask yourself or your team some off-the-wall questions – “what if we can’t use electricity?”, “what if it had to weigh less than 1g?”, “what if it were built to be biodegradable?”, “what if there were no instructions?”, “what if it has to self-replicate?”. The list is endless but to be most useful it needs to subtract some of the familiar dependencies related to your particular context.
The benefit of adopting this approach is that it gets your brain thinking well outside the box and frees (or forces) your creativity to invent, make associations and take intuitive leaps that would not otherwise occur. Not only that but the inherent novelty often makes it more fun; after all, variety is the spice life is it not? An important point to note is that whilst those initial ideas might prove to be impractical in themselves, they can, nonetheless, lead to a refinement of ideas developed at other times. Creativity is an emergent process and you need to give the value a chance to evolve.
So, the next time you hit a creativity roadblock or you are tempted to do it the same way again (and again), remove some options, limit your choices and see what happens – I bet you’ll come up with something unexpected…