Setting boundaries for yourself can actually unlock your creativity.

August 11, 2016 - 4:01 pm

Several years ago, I joined a small group visiting the set of Saturday Night Live after its Friday night rehearsal. During the visit, executive producer Lorne Michaels discussed SNL’s creative process — emphasizing that the show’s extraordinarily tight schedule actually propels creativity.

Each week, SNL’s writers and performers trudge toward Saturday’s live broadcast and the looming possibility of “imminent failure,” said Michaels, and this pressure-cooker pace ignites creative energy.

“It is axiomatic to me that there’s no creativity without boundaries,” he said.

To free and lift creative potential, try imposing these boundaries on yourself:

1. Step away from that computer.

Depend on computers for every answer and you’ll often wind up with far too many answers. That’s the opinion of legendary industrial designer Irving Harper, who created the original Herman Miller logo and the first sunburst clocks.

Harper does own an Apple computer — but it’s typically tucked away in his studio closet.

“With a computer, there are too many choices,” he told the New York Times, “and I always like working within limits. If you look at Mozart, who had this strict classical framework, — an allegro, an andante, a scherzo and a finale — you see that within that formula he got results he might never haven gotten if he had all the options in the world.”

2. Make a ‘Don’t Do’ list.

In addition to determining what you want to do for a particular project, also decide tropes and bromides to avoid.

Before filming “Contagion,” director Steven Soderbergh decided which disaster-movie clichés he wanted to sidestep.

“We had a list we refused to do,” he explained to New York magazine. “Can’t show the president. No helicopter shots. Can’t go somewhere and show people suffering where our characters haven’t been. Those restrictions made us think laterally, which was good.”

3. Place hard deadlines on yourself.

With the right mindset, deadlines become lifelines for creativity. Just ask singer and songwriter Jack White.

“Deadlines and things make you creative,” White said in the “Under Great White Northern Lights” documentary film.

“But opportunity and telling yourself you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, you have all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want – that just kills creativity.” 

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