💡AIP 84 Limiting Yourself Can Unlock Creativity

💡AIP 84 Limiting Yourself Can Unlock Creativity
Photo by Diego PH / Unsplash

I’m standing in my grandmother’s house taking a picture with my iPhone 10 Mini at our family reunion.

I brought up the camera feature, clicked the photo button, and just like that was done. As I put my phone in my pocket, I notice my cousin Gustavo taking a photo with a Minolta film camera—it’s a dinosaur compared to the iPhones we have today.

You have to put some film in just for it to work–every film strip costing $15+ dollars–and then adjust all these fancy photography settings like ISO, aperture, and F-stop. The picture doesn’t even come out ready! You must bring every photo to one of those ancient dark rooms to be color-corrected which can cost another 70+ depending on the company.

I was perplexed.

Why would someone purposefully use a dinosaur when they could make something 10x as good with their iPhone? Intrigued, I asked him that very question. What he said gave me a huge insight into creativity.

“Using digital cameras, it’s so easy. You get complacent. I use this camera FOR the limitations. It gives me more appreciation for the final product. I can’t just take a photo anywhere and anytime but rather have to incorporate time of day, perspective, color, and more into my shot, altering the camera settings for every photo. Here’s where it gets crazy: Sometimes, the limitations enhance my creativity and give me a shot I would never have thought of before.”

Standing there, I realized Gustavo was onto something fundamental about creativity and the human condition.

Limitations don’t necessarily constrain you; they can free you to do things you never imagined.

How often do we hear people say: “I want to keep my options open.” They choose paths that give them the maximum freedom possible. They want the best technology and gear for their creative efforts.

But do these things really help?*

When we have limitless options, we struggle to go down one path. According to Barry Schwartz (2016) in his book The Paradox Of Choice, having more options can not only make it harder to make a choice, but increase our regret for the choice afterward 1 . An iPhone, for example, can make it so easy to take a photo anywhere in any place; we struggle to choose when and where to take a picture and aren’t satisfied with the product afterward.

Having the best technology and gear can become a procrastination method in itself. I have friends who have gone years telling themselves they can’t begin creating content until they have the right camera set up, lighting, and editing software. Meanwhile, some create content with their iPhones video and built microphones with unfinished laundry in the background.

After talking with Gustavo, I realized I had already been applying this concept without knowing it.

I apply it in my writing whenever I limit myself by choosing a specific topic. I apply it in my stand-up by sticking to certain comedy styles like storytelling and absurdist humor. And I apply it by drawing pixel art, which intentionally constrains you by forcing you to create art out of blocky squares.

An example of a troll drawing I made using the limitations of pixel art.

In these cases, limitations aren’t constraining but rather freeing.

I encourage you to ask yourself, how can you use limitations to supercharge your creativity? Where are you giving yourself too many options? Where are you telling yourself you need the best technology and gear before starting?

Do you really need it?

Go free yourself.

Here’s what I would like to share this week. 

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Schwartz, B. (2016). The paradox of choice. ECCO Press. https://amzn.to/4dXlh7F 

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