The more I’m thinking about limitations, the more I learn to love them…

This might not sound very logical, certainly it didn’t for a very long time, but I hear fragments of wisdom from many sources that add up to this, and have experience that reinforces it at every step of the way.

Limits are everywhere around us, we cannot do everything we want, otherwise the world would be a very different place. Most of these limits are fought with, however, and since so many of them are non-negotiable, that fight is futile, a waste of precious energy and time. On the other hand, limitations can drive your thinking and fire up your creativity.

Dog & their fence

Is there a way around this fence? (CC-NC by Lukinosity @ Flickr)

Imagine a situation where you are expected to come up with ideas, like “what new product should the company develop?” or “write a novel”, or even “what to have for dinner?” If this is all the information you have (nothing, just a general direction), then I would love to see how much progress one would make in a quarter of an hour… I bet not that much, it’s like drifting in a space.

On the other hand, when you start setting limits, your brain goes into problem solving mode and suddenly there’s the missing inspiration. “How would you make an existing product cost half as much?”, “you have 30 days to write a 50000 word novel, what would it be about?”, “where to eat which were I haven’t been yet, is nearby and has wifi so I can hang out and write blogposts later?” These limits give directions and the brain loves problem solving. Soon enough this process becomes indistinguishable from playing a game or a puzzle.


Actually, dealing with limitations is everywhere in our lives even if we don’t necessarily realize them.

I do quite a bit of programming every day, and it is also dealing with limitations: languages, APIs frameworks set boundaries on what can be expressed and how. I often have to find a different solutions, e.g. Facebook doesn’t make certain functions available for developers so my original idea (and the next 20 iterations) don’t work, but in the end there will be one that does and I guarantee you it will be better than the ones before that.

Just been to watch Moneyball yesterday, the true story of a baseball team that had to become creative after it ended up being without good players and without money. They innovated around the problem, disrupted the system, and while they haven’t necessarily achieve something they wanted, but reached things they couldn’t imagine before.

Sports in general are an example of this. Could certain football (soccer) teams look like magicians with the ball if they were allowed to do anything they want? They have to think how work within the limitations of the rules and that’s how they can come up with new ways of play that surprises and delights.

I do like to watch some good e-sports, and Day[9] is one of the most amazing commentator of StarCraft 2 games. He runs a (almost) daily podcast, and every Monday is Funday Monday, where he sets up challenges for people, to play with certain (often insane) handicaps. What comes out of it? People hate to lose so much that they come up with crazy strategies, that the opponent is almost always completely caught by surprise and suspects cheating instead of creativity. I still cannot stop laughing when I remember the games of this episode….

Been taking part in NaNoWriMo, which is about writing a 50000 word novel in 30 days. That is a tall order. How people became more creative there? Like the awesome folks who run NaNoWordsprints: for a big part of the day, they post challenges that other writers can take up, like this one: “[while writing in the next 15 minutes] include the phrase “My food is problematic” (BP for knowing where it’s from) OR an epic battle for something very small.” Limits you? Indeed! Makes your imagination take off? No doubt.

It’s all in the wrist

Once you are in the mindset, there’s no going back. Where others see barriers, you can see another chance to do something different from everyone. And that’s one sure way to make life really awesome. 😉

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