Restrictions Will Set You Free!

Kathryn Scanland Innovation

We’re paralyzed by infinite possibilities. Give yourself some intentional restrictions in life and you’ll finally get inspired to act.  Restrictions will set you free.  ~Derek Sivers


We tend to think that a blank canvass will spark creativity. That if we remove enough barriers employees will suddenly become inspired and innovation will flourish in every corner of our organizations.  Could it be that the exact opposite might be true?

Derek Sivers is a musician and the creator of, which became the largest online seller of independent music. Derek provides this example:

I say to you “Write me a piece of music. Anything at all.  Go.”  “Umm…anything?” you say.  “What kind of mood are you looking for? What genre?”

There are too many possibilities. The blank page problem. How do you begin with infinity?

Now imagine I say, “Write me a piece of music, using only a xylophone, a flute, and a shoe box.  You can only use four notes: B, C, E, F, and only two notes at a time.  It has to be in ¾ time, start quiet, get loud, then get quiet by the end. Make it sound like a ladybug dancing with an acorn.  Go.”

Ah…your imagination has already begun writing the music as soon as it hears the limitations.  This is easy!
Those of us in developed countries have a blank page. We can do anything. Anything we want.  And that’s the problem. We’re paralyzed by the infinite possibilities.

I’ve seen this thinking within organizations frequently and I’ve done it myself. Give people lots of freedom and they’ll be creative. Instead, they become paralyzed. They return to their offices and keep doing what they’ve been doing; nothing innovative or even new or different materializes.

Testing has shown that restrictions actually aid creative thought. An art guild in Colorado took that finding literally and created an entire show based on restrictions. Each artist was limited to a 1′ x 1′ canvass. They believed that if they put certain limits on things, it would force artists to see things in different ways and stretch their abilities.

Disney believes that when you have unlimited resources, you can afford to be sloppy with your designs. Restrictions introduce a set of rules that you cannot change so you are forced to be creative in order to come up with a solution.Think about something you have wanted to accomplish but it’s stalled; it’s not moving forward. Identify specific restrictions, work within those restrictions, and then watch your creativity and innovation soar. Your restrictions will set you free!

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

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