Restrictions and Creativity

Years ago, I read an article by the Lead Game Designer Mark Rosewater wherein he explained that (paraphrasing) “restriction create breeding grounds for creativity“. His exact words were:

["Rules are obstacles to creativity"] is probably the biggest myth that causes people to lash out against the rules. The problem is that this myth is based upon a false assumption. People like to believe that a world of infinite choices is more conducive to creativity than a world of finite choices. Essentially, the more choices available, the more chance for creative thought.

Unfortunately, scientific exploration into the means of creative thought has proven this not to be true. Testing has shown that restrictions actually aid creative thought. How is this possible? The answer rests in the human mind. It turns out that the mind isn’t good at completely open-ended choices. When faced with total freedom of options the brain retreats to known pathways. It simply repeats what worked last time it was in this situation.

This idea, that constraints somehow force us to explore creative space more, is one that has stuck with me ever since reading that article. I had read elsewhere that a coping trick for feeling overwhelmed is to break your mammoth task down into smaller bits and manage those bits little by little, and this is sort of the same principle: our brains are not particularly good at tracking large sets of data.  Continue reading