# Creativity needs enabling constraints
Setting a constraint, restriction, or a standard into creative work may sound very limiting. One common idea that many of us know is, if we want to be more creative, we'll have to open ourselves up, free from any restrictions. Counterintuitively, an enabling constraint is what enables us to be creative.
Constraints allow us to be productive on top of what's been established. The amount of creativity that has been built on top of binary code, an extreme restriction of 0s and 1s, are limitless. The restricted amount of 26 letters have enabled us to write novels, theories, etc. All these creative works are only made possible because of these constraints.
Constraints also allow us to compare one idea with another. When you can't compare ideas, all of them will be indifferent, hence we'll not be able to decide if any ideas are worth pursuing at all. Making sure that scientific experiments are comparable and repeatable, is the constraint that has been set that started the scientific revolution.
Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (pp. 130-132).
Thinking and creativity can flourish under restricted conditions and there are plenty of studies to back that claim (cf. Stokes 2001; Rheinberger 1997). The scientific revolution started with the standardisation and controlling of experiments, which made them comparable and repeatable (cf. Shapin, 1996). Or think of poetry: It imposes restrictions in terms of rhythm, syllables or rhymes.
We can write novels, theories, love letters or court orders - just by rearranging these 26 letters. This is certainly not possible despite the restriction to 26 letters, but because of it. Nobody will open a book and wish it contains more types of letters or be disappointed because it is, again, just another variation of the same alphabet.
The biggest threat to creativity and scientific progress is therefore the opposite: a lack of structure and restrictions. Without structure, we cannot differentiate, compare or experiment with ideas. Without restrictions, we would never be forced to make the decision on what is worth pursuing and what is not. Indifference is the worst environment for insight.
One thing is for sure: the common idea that we should liberate ourselves from any restrictions and "open ourselves up" to be more creative is very misleading indeed (Dean 2013, 201).
- Anomie blocks flow
- Anomie is an interesting paradox where we may think that the lack of rule means freedom, which may be correlated to enjoyment. Creativity needs enabling constraints.
- Limiting the length of your zettels can make them atomic
- Constraining your notes to a certain length may sound very restrictive for a creative work like writing, but Creativity needs enabling constraints.