Constraints, creativity and complexity

The concept of “constraints” is built into the construct of creativity itself


Constraints in a general sense may be taken as restrictive. But in a complexity perspective constraints have a different understanding. Here, it is important to understand constraints are enabling too. They create opportunities for action, thoughts, and creation. Order in human life is primarily created through constraints. “It is not something which merely limits possibilities, constraints are also enabling. By eliminating certain possibilities, others are introduced” (Paul Cilliers, 1998). For example, take the case of road traffic. Without conventions that shape how we drive(left or right), as well as our expectations of other drivers, smooth road transport will not be possible. Take the example of HTML, a constrained protocol that allows us to use the web. A cricket game works as a game because of various constraints like cricket ground, various constrained roles like a bowler, batsman, fielder, keeper, etc, and various associated rules that govern the game. Without this, we wouldn’t have cricket as a game. Therefore, constraints not only remove or limit options but also create or enable order and new possibilities.

The mentioning of constraints as enabling can also be found in mainstream entrepreneurship research, for e.g. The idea of entrepreneurial Bricolage (Baker and Nelson, 2005) shows how entrepreneurs exploit opportunities despite resource constraints. Further, constraints have found an important place in the research on creativity, in that the concept of “constraints” is built into the construct of creativity itself (Sternberg and Kaufman, 2010). Research also has consistently found that without constraints, there can be no creativity (Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen, 2009; Johnson-Laird, 1988). Both theoretical and empirical contributions investigating the entwinement of creativity and constraints exemplify the dual role of constraints, as constraints can be both limiting and enabling in creative processes.

Excerpt from;

Esoloop Framework: An Entrepreneurship Self-Organization Framework for a Complex, Dynamic and Interconnected world

Sternberg, Robert J., and James C. Kaufman. “Constraints on creativity.” The Cambridge
handbook of creativity (2010): 467-482

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