Tag Archive | Creative Limitations


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is constraint-setting?”

“We’ve talked a while ago about the creative limitations principle [<link; short read] of creativity. The idea that

Restrictions breed creativity. (Mark Rosewater)

Constraint-setting means making the process intentional.”

“A kind of intention-setting?”


In practical terms, this means getting clear at the beginning of the creative process on what your constraints are.

What are your constraints?

Let’s take these imaginary dialogues as an example.

‘Fragments from imaginary dialogues’ is the primary constraint – my idiosyncratic style. 

I write in the form of dialogue.

I write fragments, which means they do not follow the traditional story structure of beginning, middle, and end. [pattern-breaking]

I write short-form, which means I strive to keep them short. [brevity, condensed meaning]

I write in simple language, which means that, given a choice between two similar words, I go for the more common one. [clarity

Viewed as a template [<link; medium read], this is the fixed part of the template. The content of the dialogues is the variable part of the template. 

Let’s take this particular imaginary dialogue as an example.

The dialogue has a creative focus. [one thing]
It has a general creative focus, a theme – which in this case is mental models. 
It has a specific creative focus – which is usually the title of the piece.

The first stage of my writing process is exploratory mind-mapping.”

“So you’re essentially discovering your constraints.”


I discover my creative focus for the piece, and I discover the main components of the piece. We might think of the former as the hard constraint, and of the latter as soft constraints

Then I continue the exploration by starting to write, using the mind-map as a guide.

The beauty of the process is that I never know where I’m going to get.”

Creative Limitations

Restrictions breed creativity. (Mark Rosewater)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you think about the practice of expressing Gratitude for three things?”

“Our brain is not good at open-ended choices. Whenever it’s faced with such a choice, it retreats to known pathways.

If you set as the goal to think of three things you’re grateful for, it’s likely that you’ll always think of the same handful of things.

By adding constraints, you force your brain to explore new pathways. This is a fundamental principle of creativity. I call it the creative limitations principle.

In practical terms, that means making each of the three things you want to express Gratitude for thematic. Something like:
– ‘people who care about me’
– ‘resources’
– ‘experiences’

The theme can vary from more general to more specific. I like to think of it as the specificity spectrum. The more general the theme, so the lower the specificity, the wider the possibility-space.

If you do your Gratitude practice in writing, you can play with exploring different themes every session.”

Beautiful Models: Life-Filtering

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“An essential aspect of Wisdom is filtering.”

“You mean filtering information?”

“I mean filtering possibilities/options. Information is but one possibility-space. It can be activities, desires, relationships, opportunities, etc.

I like to distinguish between three types of filtering: quantitative-filtering, qualitative-filtering and artful-filtering.

On one level, filtering is a necessity. There’s simply too many possibilities. Quantitative-filtering is the process of reducing possibilities to a manageable number.

On another level, filtering can improve the quality of our lives. Qualitative-filtering is the process of further reducing possibilities to a smaller number of higher-quality items. The fundamental principle here is ‘less but better‘.

You can think of it as levels of granularity.”

“Makes me think of a sieve.”

“Precisely. The second sieve has smaller openings than the first one.”

“What about the last one?”

“On another level, filtering can be a creative process. Artful-filtering is the seemingly paradoxical [<link; short length] process of creating possibilities by reducing possibilities. The fundamental principle here is ‘creative limitations‘ [<link; short].

Another distinction I like to make is between micro and macro-filtering.

To use an example, micro-filtering is selecting between a number of books to read. Macro-filtering is selecting what category of books to read, so it’s a higher-order level of selection.”

“What macro-filters do you use for reading?”

“I read chaotically most of my life, mostly theoretical, largely useless.

An essential stage of my evolution was marked by the ‘installation’ of one macro-filter: The Practical.

I’m only interested in books with potential practical application for the Art of (Playful) Living. It’s simplified and enriched my life immensely.”

The value of injury

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What’s the best way to think about injury?”

Creative limitation [<link, short read].

The tendency is to focus on the negative, on what you can no longer do.
Turn it upside down, antifragile style.

Focus on the positive.
Focus on the beautiful learning opportunity.
Focus on what you can do, given your current limitation, and start exploring and playing with possibilities.”

The gift of imperfection

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I’m imperfect.”

Everybody’s imperfect. Only, some choose to see it as a creative limitation.”