When our team finds out about new projects, it typically goes something like this: Our supervisor calls us into her office. A new job request has come in from a client. She fills us in on the details. Pretty typical, until you factor in my internal reaction:
“How are we going to pull this off?”
Nine times out of ten my hesitation makes sense; we only have two weeks, we can’t go over budget, we have never done that kind of project before. We can make excuse after excuse because the reasons to not move forward are endless. So how do we answer “How are we going to pull this off?”
There is not always a right answer, but we must answer it.
Recently, I sorted through some of my personal and team project archives and discovered something unexpected. The projects that brought the most pride were produced under some sort of limitation. Creativity had been strengthened by restraint.
In fact, there are four distinct areas in which I’ve found this to be true:
During my time on a small ministry team, we were working to develop a new video-based curriculum to add to our resources. Our biggest challenge was the incredibly strict budget. After a lot of long hours spanning close to a year, we ended up with eight unique videos that were included in the resource. Each one was made better by the creativity that came from working within the confines of a meager budget. Completing the project was exciting, but the most rewarding moment was seeing the resource quickly move into the “Most Popular” slot on the ministry website. Even a strapped production budget could not stop the idea that we believed in so fervently.
A few years ago a coworker landed a big graphic design job for our studio. When the team member broke the news to the company, we panicked. It was great news but there was one little problem – our studio did video production, not design. I eagerly volunteered to help manage the project, but inside I was petrified. We channeled that fear into making good decisions on hiring strong freelancers to complement our team. Our fear made us conscientious instead of cocky, and we approached our work with an extra measure of focus and care. In the end, the project was deemed a success after exceeding the client’s expectations. Anxiety should never stop us from accepting challenges. Maintaining a balanced sense of fear can keep us on the edge of our seat and brings out our best work.
I could not afford to own a computer during my college years, so I carried all my projects on a 320 GB external hard drive. This limitation forced me to determine the best time slot (aka midnight) to get my work done in the department computer lab. Not only did it force me to keep a tighter schedule, but it also forced me to be more organized. I didn’t have unlimited access to the best technology money could buy — I had to make do with what was available. While I get to use much better technology today, I still consider some of my student work my best in terms of raw and pure creativity. Our lack of technology should not discourage us; instead we should work on finding ways to work with what we do have.
At a temporary job I held for a summer, one of my coworkers and I did our best to stay out of each other’s way. We simply did not get along. One day while I was assembling some of our new equipment, he made a suggestion. After attempting to ignore him, we ended up debating about the issue — our interpersonal conflict spurred us on toward a conversation that turned out to be helpful. I finally tried incorporating his idea into the work I had already accomplished, and it worked like a charm. Creative problem solving doesn’t always happen in the most collaborative environments. Friction is the way to start fires and healthy conflict (emphasis on healthy) can work the same for ideation.
It is not easy to see a vision come to life, but stopping at “How are we going to pull this off?” will never get us anywhere. Next time your hands are tied, don’t give up. We could all give fewer excuses and learn to embrace limitations and constraints. After all, limitations and constraints can be our biggest creative ally.
Do you have a story of restrained creativity? How did you overcome the challenge?