Most articles and books on creativity encourage us to “think out of the box” and get rid of all the restrictions on our thinking. The trouble with this advice is that it is almost entirely wrong. It is very difficult to be creative when “anything goes” and you have no limitations, because it is the limitations that actually encourage creativity.
Give your mind a focused problem and it will respond. If I ask you to come up with a revolutionary new idea for improving motor cars in general, the best you could probably come up with would be a few vague suggestions. Yet if I asked you to think of a way of improving the steering wheel in your own car, you could almost certainly come up with some very useful ideas. The more focused the problem, the easier it is to be creative with it.
A good example is rhyme and meter in poetry. Consider the following poem, one of perhaps the greatest collection of poems in the world, Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.
In writing this poem, was Shakespeare hampered by the fact that he had chosen to use a very conventional format, in which not only are the metre and rhyming scheme fixed, but also to some extent the subject matter? No, not at all. He produced a great work of art by the very fact that he was exploring the limitations of the format. And not only did he do it once, he did it over a hundred and fifty times — each time producing a different effect!
What has all this got to do with us in our daily lives? Well, have a think about your life. Are you thinking and working on clearly focused objectives with clearly defined boundaries? Or is your life and work diffused over many poorly defined projects with no clear boundaries? Which is likely to produce the greater degree of creativity in your life?
If you have the feeling that you are getting nowhere or that you can’t keep your impetus going, the moral is narrow your life down. You will find paradoxically that you are able to able to exercise far more freedom within your narrow boundaries, than the deceptive “freedom” which has no focus, no boundaries and is ultimately unsatisfying because it is going nowhere.