Thinking Inside the Box

November 11th, 2016

A few weeks ago I sat through a lecture with a marketing executive who was trying to teach an audience of creative people how to “think outside the box.” Truth be told, I secretly cringe when I hear those four words. Experience has taught me, that despite popular opinion, creativity does in fact love constraint. One of advertising’s legends, Norman Berry, was often known to say, “Give me the freedom of a tightly defined strategy.”

When we think of creativity, we often think of its more liberating expressions—the beauty of painting, the rhythm in music and the wit of poetry. I believe creativity to be nothing more than solving problems.

When Michelangelo began his work on the marble that would one day become his David, he was confined to the blunders of two previous artists who had taken a crack at the stone. The professionals of his day considered the rock unworkable.

When Steven Spielberg shot his classic Jaws, he was confined to the limits of a broken shark. This forced him to think of new ways to scare his audience, without actually showing the beast.

The nature of my own work, I believe, is the most confining art there is. Sometimes I am confined to 8.5 x 11 inches and a shoestring budget. Sometimes I’m confined to a campaign about homelessness and a client who refuses to show homeless people. My point is this: embrace the challenge.

We are so often told to think outside the box and yet it never even occurs to us that the best answer might actually be inside it. Constraint will force you to reach conclusions that may have never occurred to you. Embrace the challenge, because you never know if a broken shark or an imperfect marble will prove to be your masterpiece.