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Date: April 11, 2012

Author: JT

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Do You Artificially Constrain Yourself?

My most creative moments come when there is great peace around me.  If writing is the focus, my favorite times are in front of the laptop, fresh steaming coffee to my left, Tigjtpedersen_window light_creativeger resting at my side, and great peace around me.  Doesn’t hurt if there’s a ray of yellowed early-morning sunlight streaming in the window either.

These moments, free of distraction, allow our minds to wander freely.  The tortoise part of our brain crawls out of its shell.  Its thinking is unstructured, even unexplainable, and absolutely runs away and hides when hint of time or stress or constraint is evident. So, moments of peace are paramount if we want to see it.

Unfortunately, even when we think we are thinking freely and without constraints, we are not.

Thinking about my morning writing, the flow of words can come unbidden.  Yet the flow of their own creativity is limited.  It used to be limited by the physical constraints of the medium being used: a diary, plain paper, or a stone tablet.  As I write this, the words flow into a template, shaped to look nice, to minimize distraction, yet a constraint all the same.

When was the last time you truly wrote something without considering the end format, first?  If you set out to write a report, you probably thought, “Well, I’m using Word (or PowerPoint/KeyNote…), and ‘this’ is what I can do…” Not even realizing you’ve constrained your creativity before you started.

Readers know one of my favorite activities is Motorcycling.  25 years ago, I began doing annual multi-day motorcycle trips.  The biggest constraints were a preference for warm weather (June – August), the number of days available, and the cash in the bank account.  On a 7, 10, or (if it was a good year) 15 day trip, each day started the same.  Get up 6:30′ish, have something to eat, suit up and head out. That was it.

You didn’t know what was ahead, so you just went and did it.

Every day was an adventure.  It might start with dark clouds in the sky, no clouds in the sky, or something in-between.  During the day, you might encounter any mix of weather and road conditions.  You didn’t know what challenge you might face.  The fact you may encounter cats and dogs falling from the sky were what made it an adventure.

Then, the Weather Channel™ was created.  What a great thing!  Now we could check the weather, see what kind of day we were in for (constraints), and adjust accordingly.  Regardless of the prior night’s planning, Weather Channel began dictating when we would leave (wait for that storm to pass, and how long?), what direction we’d head (east, that storm’s to the west), and even when we might stop for the day (let’s quit early, I don’t want to be caught in that).

At motorcycle rallies, it is commonplace to see everyone’s TV turned to the Weather Channel, as you walk back to your room.

With weather tools available everywhere now, with up-to-the-second info in the palm of your hand, riders often stay holed up in their rooms just waiting for the temp to come up 3 more degrees.

Finally, there’s the GPS.  Never a more enabling technology have we had that is, at the same instant, among the most constraining.  We can freely wander wherever we want, without fear of getting lost.  Yet at the same time, event planners create routes, hand them out to attendees, and many feel compelled to do whatever Ms. Garmin tells them.  “We can’t go that way, the ‘GPS’ says to go this way!”

Never a more enabling technology have we had that is, at the same instant, among the most constraining.

Creativity, freedom of thought, require that we be aware of the artificial, unconscious constraints that are persistent parts of our lives.  I encourage you, next time you’re in a creative mood, to pause and look at your surroundings, the tools you’re using.  What might you do, if they weren’t there?

Would you ride down that road?

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