Creative Boundaries

By |2021-06-28T06:26:17-07:00July 6th, 2021|

Sparkchasers Episode 43 | Show Notes

Become More Creative with Boundaries


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Creative Boundaries may seem like an oxymoron, but they actually serve in a symbiotic relationship. When we think of creativity, we might picture a person somewhat frazzled – their hair is askew, their clothes covered in paint, or they haven’t slept in days because they are so caught up in their craft. But the reality is that some of the world’s most creative people have very structured boundaries for their work. 

In today’s episode, we’re going to dive into ways that boundaries can actually help your creative spirit thrive. Here’s a few key points from the show:

The Power of Constraint

In 2019, Harvard Business Review published the results of a study that individuals, teams, and organizations alike benefit from a healthy dose of constraints. It is only when the constraints become too high that they stifle creativity and innovation. Even more fascinating is that when there are no boundaries placed on the creative process, people become complacent and go with the first idea that comes to mind.

We’ve all seen this first hand at some level. Think about a time when your back was against the wall. Maybe you waited until the last minute on a project and suddenly need to get it done in 24 hours. Or perhaps you were in a group that had 30 minutes to plan your next lesson and the ideas just magically seemed to flow. 

On the flip side, how many times have you been in a meeting or a planning session with a few hours to create something and everyone just looked at each other without a clue as to where to start? 

It’s a false narrative that creativity happens spontaneously. Many times, creativity happens in a pressure cooker.

The Take-Away Strategy

One of my favorite ways to get people churning creative ideas to the surface is the Take-Away Strategy. This is best done in small groups of 3-4, but can also be done individually if necessary.

You can do this with any central idea or topic. But it should be broad enough to get multiple solutions. For example, when I do this with teachers in professional development sessions, I often use the term “creativity” as our prompt. But you could easily substitute in something like “abstract” or “exploration” or any other term that has a broad base of understanding. Here’s how it works in my example of creativity:

  • Step 1: Ask the groups to take 5 minutes to define the term Creativity. Encourage them to compare ideas and create a definition that the whole group agrees upon.
  • Step 2: Give each group a post-it note. Then explain they will have 2 minutes to narrow down their definition of creativity into a Tweet of 140 characters or less and it must fit on the post-it note.
  • Step 3: For the final round, the group now has 1 minute to transform their Creativity tweet definition into a work of art. It can be in any domain – such as a dance, a rap, or a drawing. But it must be completed and ready to perform or share in 1 minute or less.

You might think the results from this process would be pretty basic, but you’d be wrong. Every single time I’ve done this exercise – with both students and adults – the results are incredible. The boundaries of time and space offer just enough of a push to bring creative thinking processes to the forefront.

Boundaries for a Creative Mindset

Creative boundaries aren’t just for activities in the classroom or even to prompt our own problem-solving skills. Having healthy boundaries is also critical for our own mental health and well-being. 

In an article from FastCompany, Jane Porter shares that boundaries are a state of being. Knowing ourselves enough to recognize how we tap into our creative mindset is important. For some, that means turning off emails outside of set times throughout the day to limit the distraction. For others, that means only doing creative work at certain times, such as the early morning or late evening.

For me, I set aside specific days in the week I call my Creative Cave. I let my team know that I’m in the Creative Cave from 8AM-3PM and they should wait to contact me (unless it’s an emergency) until the late afternoon/evening. 

Your Creative Cave might be 20 minutes in the morning or an hour on Saturday afternoons. But when you go in, set up the boundaries so that you’re not disturbed and can go through your unique process.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about this topic.  Remember, you can use the ask me anything button below to share with me your ideas and what’s bubbling to the surface for you. And if you are enjoying the show and know someone who could benefit from our discussions, please share the podcast with them. Together, we can chase the spark of our ideas and make a brighter future for everyone. I’ll see you soon.

Additional Resources

Why Constraints are Good for Creativity (Harvard Business Review)

Why Your Creativity Needs Boundaries to Thrive (FastCompany)

Creativity Isn’t a Soft Skill

Arts Integration Conference

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