An Ode to Creative Constraints

Limits on thee will set you free

Limits, constraints, routines, and rules
The ones who abide are surely the fools

They blindly follow, blazing not one new trail
Content to conform, if it means they won't fail

But the creatives among us simply won't hear it
Seeing restrictions as crushing to the human spirit

We want to be free, unencumbered, and impromptu
Never planning or constraining, or limiting our view

Surely, creativity must grow out of such freedom
If ideas are to germinate, this is how you must seed 'em

But wait, are all of these ideas actually right?
Is it possible that we're missing the true creative light?

I'm here to tell you that we might just be wrong
And there's a better path to that poem or that song

A new recipe or start-up? It does not matter
For the idea to emerge, we must limit the chatter

You see, it's only by controlling our choices
That the world gets to hear the best of our voices

Need an example that is close to real-time?
How about this article that I've struggled to rhyme?

But don't take it from me, what do I know?
The world's most creative people are much better to show

Messi and King James must play in the lines
But it’s within this space where their true talent shines

Seinfeld’s restriction was 30 minutes per story
In which he achieved comedic genius and glory

Bobby Fischer’s chess matches were all by the book
Yet the magic was in the moves of his rook

We see the beauty of restriction through most every field
And it’s in solving such puzzles that true legacies are sealed

The start-up must grow with funds that are tight
With ideas and persistence, founders fight the good fight

Laws of nature the biologist must endure
But the path that she chooses just may be the cure

Even the salesman must finish before the beep
In those precious seconds, he earns his whole keep

The great irony in what we see as repression
Is that it opens us up to our greatest expression

When we limit our choices, the fog begins to clear
And it becomes obvious the direction to steer

Limit your words, or the time, or the color
And your stock of ideas will surely grow fuller

So if you struggle to get started or are stuck in a rut
Do something surprising, and find choices to cut


I’m all out of time, and have not one more rhyme.
Goodbye til next week, from this word-smithing geek.


Photo credit: Luemen Carlson @

Extra credit: There is so much great content out there on the idea of creative constraints. Do yourself a favor and look up the topic on Youtube for a variety of great speeches on this concept.

I see so many people using creative constraints so well. Of course, everyone using Twitter must condense their thoughts to 280 characters or less, which inspires its own unique form of creativity. One of my favorite follows on Twitter is designer/entrepreneur Jack Butcher, who has built a business and a brand out of creative constraints—in his case, expressing complicated ideas simply and beautifully through visuals presented only in black and white. Check out his stuff if you haven’t already. Where else are you seeing creative constraints used well? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Have a great week - Greg

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