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Gift Box

To create NEW, innovative, novel concepts, it is imperative to move beyond the conceptual and creative structures you have always worked within. But you can't just think your way to that other space. You need to explore your way there. Explore the hell out of wherever you are. See how much you can extract from a single place. Stay with it until you have turned it upside down, inside out, backwards and sideways, cut it in pieces, tossed in the air. PLAY. Discover the infinite that exists within one.

Without any limits, most people tend to grab the obvious, easy, common choice. The idea or component that jumps out first, the baseball bat of inspiration that knocks them over the head. The resultant product of these ideas might be enjoyable in its own right, but is unlikely to be very interesting.

Limitation drives us to be thorough, to exhaust all possibilities, to unlock the full potential available in the space that we have. Exploration is where the magic begins, the fun, the play. Seeing what you have, looking, really looking, noticing, noticing more. Looking again, noticing more. Looking again, looking again, yet again, again, a million times over. Looking, looking, seeing the same old things over and over and over until finally, the picture shifts, and you stop. Gasp. Your mind has changed. The old things are new. They have transformed before your eyes, awakened you to all kinds of potential, to possibilities that you didn’t see before. You see that your limited situation is interesting, full of potential. You see its beauty. You see how you can work with it and all of its components. You learn that you can do a lot with what you have. You learn that you have a lot. This is alchemy. This is creation. This is the work of an artist.

Restriction is an impetus for creativity. It necessitates it.

Seemingly counterintuitive, the most innovative creations emerge from states of limitation.

Being handed a limitation pushes us to think beyond our normal range. In order to get to out-of-the-box thinking, you have to begin with a box.

Restriction also prevents us from falling into habitual patterns. As some or all of our usual pathways become unavailable, our only choice is to come up with new ways of working.

Restriction helps to inspire us to dream bigger, to desire a more vast experience than that which we are living.

Assignment to a confined space pushes us to explore all the edges. Given fewer things to look at, we begin to look more closely. Our sight grows more keen. We examine each nuance, perceive details previously overlooked. We see the shape of a windmill in the ceiling corner, we feel the raised bumps on the wall that we had heretofore described as flat.

In undergraduate, I studied dance, art, and writing. I am forever grateful for this profound educational base. It taught me how to see and appreciate life. It taught me how to use restriction as a springboard for creativity. It taught me to create.

In choreography class, we did not create dances by standing in front of a mirror and pulling out cool moves. (Well, some people try to work this way, but the pieces they create are contrived and stale). Most of class involved play and exploration, based on exercises of restriction. For instance, one day we were told to locomote from one side of the studio to the other, keeping one shoulder in contact with the floor the entire time. You can imagine the interesting movements born out of that exercise.

In poetry writing classes, we would do similar restriction-based exercises. We might go out on a walk and write down any random words that catch our eye, gathering from street and building signs, posters, etc. Then, having a full page of collected words, we would return to class and create a poem using only the collected words.

In photography class, we might be given a theme of “texture,” or “shadow,” and then go out and make images that fall within that framework.

All of this comes to mind because of our current situation. The level of restriction and limitation imposed upon both the personal and collective is unprecedented in so many ways. It strikes me that we have a great opportunity here.

In writing this, I am in no way downplaying the hardship, stress, uncertainty, and fear that the pandemic has brought upon millions of people. I am not making light of the sick, the suffering, or the dead.

It is my experience, however, that birth emerges from death. Freedom and opportunity arise from chaos. Innovation stems from restriction.

To help generate a bit of inspiration, I have examined 3 different components involved with the process of innovation: restriction, disruption, and creation. Today's blog addresses the restriction part. The next two topics will be shared in consequent weeks. I will add in a few exercises at the end of each, inviting anyone interested to begin working purposefully with this rare historical moment, in real time.

Week One Homework: Exploring Restriction

Exercise 1: Look, Notice, Appreciate

Explore your familiar spaces: your home, your children, your yard, your own body, etc. Write a list of 25 things you have never noticed before about any one particular aspect. Make as many lists as you want.

Exercise 2: Appreciate the Restriction

Write a list of 25 things the current restriction has positioned you to do that you would not likely be doing otherwise. (Ie: rest, time with family, etc)

Exercise 3: Convert Dreams to Reality

Think about the things you would like to have happen in your life, beyond your current reality, and make a list of 25 "realities," statements describing the things you desire, written in the present tense, as if they were already happening. (Ie: "People are eager to buy my art." "I easily attract new clients." "My employer treats me with respect and appreciation." "My partner is loving and supportive." Etc, etc…)

Once you have this list, read it every morning when you wake up, and once again before you go to sleep. You can also keep it on hand all day long. There are no rules except to do it and to have fun.

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