By Published On: July 6, 2015

I don’t know how many times I’ve been given an assignment from a well-meaning client or account executive who didn’t want to put restrictions on me. “Do whatever you think makes sense,” they say. “I don’t want to stifle your creativity.”

I understand the thinking behind this. And I appreciate it. But the problem is, creativity needs limits. You can’t come up with ideas in a vacuum. Creativity is problem solving, and a problem has parameters. If you want to help the creative process, make sure those parameters are clearly defined and communicated.

No matter the type of artist—painter, sculptor, writer, designer—he or she needs a structure to work within. What an artist does within that defined structure is where the creativity comes in. But giving an artist full control is paralyzing.

Creative people like to break rules. But that assumes there are rules to break.

As much as we don’t like to think we want rules, we do. What’s the problem? What’s the budget? How much time do I have? Who do we need to reach? What’s the brand voice? Give me a box to work inside of and I’ll find a solution. But a problem without a box is overwhelming. The possibilities are just too vast.

Rules don’t just help us focus our thinking. They also provide context and a frame of reference. A box lets us know if we’re on the right track. It allows us to evaluate what we’ve come up with and change directions as needed. Given too much control, we don’t know if what we’re solving the problem or not.

Even though it may be counter-intuitive, having rules actually makes creative people more creative. With a clear set of limits, there’s a certain freedom we feel to take chances and push against the walls. But without walls, there’s no resistance. And it’s tension that drives creativity. Without tension, there’s no inspiration. No excitement. No energy.

So please, if you really want to assist the creative process, don’t give your creative team a blank canvas. Give them a nice long list of rules. The more the merrier. Cram your creatives into a tiny little box. Force them to push back and pound their heads against the walls.

Oh, they may grumble and whine and complain the way creative people do.

But ultimately, they—and your clients—will thank you for it.

About the Author: Mark Zukor

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