Can Limitations Bring Freedom?

Can Limits help Creativity?Here’s a statement that sounds somewhat counterintuitive:

You can’t have real freedom without limitations.

As strange as it sounds, the concept isn’t radical. Every government, business enterprise, and civic organization recognizes the need to set limits. Whether they’re called laws, policies, or guiding principles, they set boundaries for all members belonging to that particular entity. Why do they do it? Because without limits, you have anarchy, and that leads to some of the greatest losses of freedom.

Yet I don’t want to discuss the general merits of setting limitations. Here at Back-Office Bulletin, we’re interested in “shed[ding] light on relevant issues affecting business owners/entrepreneurs and [creating] a forum where we can discuss solutions,” as stated in our Mission. So how can setting limits help you in your business? Can doing so lead to more productivity and increased success?

Free Your Mind (by Putting on the Reigns)

Businesses thrive on creativity and innovation that brings growth. Therefore anything that fosters such creativity and innovation is a blessing to a business. A recent article on featured an excerpt from the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. He made an interesting statement: “In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.” Because there is so much ‘white noise’ in the background of our lives, we need to filter out the unessential and zero in on the fundamental things that promote our purposes. How do we do this? One way is by setting limitations.

Mr. Kleon gives a stellar example of this. When Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat, he only used 236 different words, prompting his editor to bet him that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. Dr. Seuss won the bet by authoring one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, Green Eggs and Ham. The point of this anecdote is this: The right constraint often leads to results we would never achieve otherwise. As Jack White puts it (quoted by Mr. Kleon):

Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want – that just kills creativity.

That begs the question, “What are the ‘right constraints’ you mentioned?” That’s a little harder to answer. Scott Dadich, writing in the online edition of Wired magazine, said their design team faces the constraint of making an approximately 16 x 10¾ inch rectangle come alive. That keeps the doors of their business open; it’s their bread and butter. However, one experience in particular sheds a lot of light on the types of constraints you can personally set to unleash your creative beast.

Kelly Kingman tells of being accepted into an elite design program as a sophomore in college. She and about 7 others newbies met in a room, eager to show off their abilities. She described having visions of knocking the socks off the competition by using elaborate layouts and ornately designed fonts. Then they received the assignment. After watching Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, they had to design a movie poster. Here were the rules:

  • One color
  • One typeface: Univers 55 (described as “the most basic font in existence”)
  • 8½ x 11 sheet of paper

That’s right, folks! No fancy fonts, no Photoshop, no images. The constraints forced them to re-examine their concept of design, to strip it down to its most basic elements, and use that to create something compelling. How did it turn out? To quote Ms. Kingman, “The resulting poster may be, to this day, one of my favorite creations.”

What did she learn about limits that boost creativity? A few things, as noted below:

  • Build on one good idea. If you don’t have a compelling initial concept, all the fancy dressing won’t matter. As a mentor of mine once said of trying to disguise a worthless offering with fancy words and accolades, ‘It’s like putting whipped cream on dog food; it may look nice, but do you really want to eat it?!’
  • Choose just one message. Say one thing and say it well. If you have too many ideas vying for attention, nothing stands out. Remember, we already have a ton of ‘white noise’ we contend with in life; don’t add to it.
  • Your brain is connected to your hands and vice-versa. Going ‘old skool’ and writing out a complete blog post or eBook(or at least a major portion of one) can allow your thoughts to flow more freely, boosting your creativity. As weird as that sounds, I can attest to how well that works. I know – some of you are thinking, ‘when I type, I’m using my hands, so what’s the difference?!’ All I can say is try it. You may like it!
  • You don’t have to be ‘loud’ to get attention. Everyone wants attention these days. Heck, I only started blogging a year ago, and I’m vying for your attention! So what makes us stand out from the crowd? One thing that may help is a minimalist approach, much like the posters Ms. Kingman and her classmates created.

Let me add one other constraint to the list above: Set a time-limit on things. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes have trouble coming up with ideas for this blog. What helps stimulate my creative juices? Among other things, it’s setting a limit of getting things done on a certain day by a certain time. That’s tough, because there’s no one with a gun to my head saying, “Do it – or else!” So I have to trick myself into imagining a gun-wielding publisher saying “I want my post now!” Otherwise I’d never crank out anything!

Creativity, innovation – they’re the lifeblood of future business growth. Tap into more of both by setting limitations on yourself, and watch how free you become!

Do you feel challenged when it comes to creativity? What limitations can you set to help free your creative juices? What are you already doing to get them flowing? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

This entry was posted in Marketing, Mindset and tagged , , , , by Kerwyn Hodge. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kerwyn Hodge

Kerwyn Hodge has been an entrepreneur from early on. He’s been both a worker and manager, predominantly in the design and construction industry. Kerwyn transitioned to the Direct Selling industry, and joined LegalShield in July 2009. He works with businesses of all sizes, helping to protect the legal rights and identities of employees and their families, as well as helping to protect and grow small businesses with 100 employees or less. Check out his blog at You can reach him at 646-340-8087, or via email at

3 thoughts on “Can Limitations Bring Freedom?

    • You are very welcome, Kelly! Your experience epitomized how beneficial it is to pare things down to the essential elements and use that as the foundation for whatever we undertake. Creatively, those “limits” allow the most freedom. I look forward to reading more from you. 🙂

  1. Pingback: Find Your Niche | Back-Office Bulletin

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