Constraints Spurs Creativity

Many a blog posts have been written espousing the latest addition to Twitter, the Vine app. But the one common thread that stood out to me, in the majority of articles was the aspect of constraints.

The app unlike other video or gif apps functions on constraints. Only 6 seconds, no way to edit the footage (what you see is what you get), no filters, no audio editing.

These constraints immediately reminded me of Lars Von Trier, the Danish director. Von Trier is well known for imposing constraints or obstructions (in fact he thrives on it). The filmmaker works within these limitations, which inherently breeds new creative thoughts in filmmaking.

Let’s review his film 5 Obstructions.

5 Obstructions is a documentary film in which Lars Von Trier challenges his mentor and friend, a fellow filmmaker Jørgen Leth to remake his movie The Perfect Human five times with a different obstruction each time.

First obstruction, required Leth to create the film in Cuba with no set and only using 12 frames to answer all the questions in the original movie.

Second obstruction was to make the movie in the ‘worst place’ in the world, but without showing the place onscreen. The meal from the original film was to be included but not the woman.

The third obstruction since the second attempt was deemed a failure and Von Trier asked Leth to either re-shoot in the same location or to to remake the film as he chooses.

The fourth required Leth to make the film as an animated movie

Finally, the last and my favorite, Vons Trier has made the movie and Leth must add the voice over  in his style but using the script that Vons Trier has also written.

There are lessons to be learned from this. Intelligent constraints can indeed help fuel creativity and innovation. This HBR post drives home the point of how it is important in business to place constraints to find creative solutions.

5 Obstructions teaches us the lesson that we should to take what we know and reinterpret it in different ways.

“Think different”  by Apple is one such example. Apple reinterpreted personal computers. Using constraints of design and user experience the company introduced the world to the beauty of computers.

And in today’s content marketing era, real-time trends are the constraints. Oreo is one such brand that understands the real-time constraint to create content. Oreo’s Daily Twist campaign captures it beautifully and more recently, its responsive marketing during the blackout at the Super Bowl will be mentioned over and over again for sometime to come.

Another way to look at this would be crowd sourcing content by placing restrictions to see how consumers can reinterpret the brand. Not only does this provide marketers content it also shows them how consumers tend to think about the brand. It can lend more insight and understanding of the community.

It is important to place smart limitations to spur the creative thinking. Do you agree?