How Self Inducing Constraints Leads to Creativity & Innovation
Are you brave (and disciplined) enough to impose constraints on your self to create the best possible product?
I'm taking small steps towards making movies, and I recently had an interesting idea on how I could go about developing and honing my craft through self-imposed creative constraints inspired by a famous director's recent success in doing just this.
M. Night Shyamalan (director of Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, & Signs) rediscovered his filmmaking ability with the huge financial success of Split earlier this year. I recently watched an interview with the director where he discussed how he artificially constrained himself to move back to his successful storytelling roots.
Becoming a beginner again was his goal from stripping everything away. He chose to fund the film himself. With less money to spend, a tension and focus arose from owning every second and decision made. The only way he made money was if the film was financially successful. It needed a great story to make it happen.
While M. Night had tremendous movie making experience, it diluted the instincts that fostered his early success. Going into Split he chose not to work with former team members. His new critical crew was on their first, second or third movie. They were dangerous and instinctive, unclouded by an extended history of making movies. And this instinct fused with Shymalan's experience created a fusion of something special. With little time and money to make the movies, the project moved forward and creativity exploded. It was exactly the ingredients required to spark the magic. With a certified fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and $278 Million in worldwide box office on a $9 million dollar budget, this film was a monster success on all accounts. And, it got me thinking.
A Path To Becoming A Great Film Maker?
How could I apply this concept to my approach to filmmaking? What if I constrained myself in ways past filmmakers, from the very beginning, were limited? It would not only foster creativity, but it would create an awareness of the foundations and history of modern day movie making. My challenge is to operate within these constraints while also providing a modern and compelling twist. So what would these constraints look like?
To start, movies were without sound (except for an overlaying music track) and in black and white. The first epic feature film was 1915’s controversial “The Birth of a Nation” (not to be confused with the 2016 film of the same name). Eventually, audible voices came around and the first movie to embrace it was the also controversial 1927 film, The Jazz Singer. The most famous movies to make color filmmaking common were 1939’s Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, but both were not the first since they proceeded by other smaller films of color. The 1977 Star Wars A New Hope pioneered the way for visual effects in movies, and 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the first film to use digital color correction. That same year, Star Wars Episode Two would become the first major movie to shoot entirely on a digital camera (instead of film)
Let's recap these milestones in a simple list of project for me to create and the order in which I could do it.
- Black and white movie without sound
- A movie with sound
- A project with the use of color
- Visual effects injected movie
- The Use Of Color Correction
- Using Digital Videography (or at least simulating the constraint)
These creative constraints would foster new and innovative ideas to help me explore, learn and grow as a filmmaker. If I decide to take it even further, I could explore adding cultural and legal limitations that filmmakers faced over the years. I've got interesting ideas to explore, but let's shift gears and discover how we can apply this today in our workplace.
How I Currently Apply Creative Constraints
In the first few years of owning my company, I slowly started working more hours. While I grew up always taking a Sabbath day each week to rest and release, I eventually began working every day and all the time. You would think working so many hours would lead to more productivity, but ironically it's actually the opposite. It turns out working a steady pace of 40 hours per week results in more effective work.
After burning myself out over and over while continuing to struggle, I made the decision to place a creative constraint by adhering to a weekly Sabbath. This eventually led to me setting boundaries for work. Now, I work Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. This is a 47.5-hour block which gives me some wiggle room and time for meals and breaks.
By far, I now get way more accomplished in this time block than I ever did when I worked twice as many hours. When I was working every day and all the time, there was an incentive to procrastinate. Since I would be working later, I could do this task then instead of now. By drawing a line in the sand, I either get it done, or it has to wait. This tension forces better planning and foresight to ensure I hit my goals.
A few years after pulling back my schedule, I had a client who was in the same spot working crazy hours. She was trying to do everything, but it wasn't enough. I asked her the following.
"What if you did less, and trusted God to do more?"
It was a profound question for her to ponder. And one required by us all. So, while structuring a hard boundary around my work sandbox may make you start to feel claustrophobic, it's actually one of the most freeing acts I've done.
What’s Something You're Afraid of Constraining?
Are you afraid to set a limit and work fewer hours? Are you concerned about charging a higher rate leading to less possible clients? Are you afraid to focus your business offering because it means saying no to so many good opportunities?
Maybe now is your time, to take a leap of faith and do something hard, not because circumstances require it, but because you want to foster the best you possible. Like it has for me, setting these boundaries could be the most freeing thing you do for yourself.
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