How constraints spur creativity

Photo: Vine Branches Credit: Dray Schermerhorn

Krithika Rosenthal

featured contributor

Many blog posts have been written espousing the latest addition to Twitter, the Vine app.  The app unlike other video or gif apps functions on constraints. Only six seconds, no way to edit the footage (what you see is what you get), no filters, no audio editing.

The one common thread of the critiques was the aspect of constraints.

Flourishing with constraints

The constraints angle immediately reminded me of Lars Von Trier, the Danish director. Von Trier is well known for imposing constraints or obstructions (in fact he thrives on it). The filmmaker works within these limitations, which inherently breeds new creative thoughts in film-making.

Consider Von Trier’s film 5 Obstructions.  5 Obstructions is a documentary film in which Lars Von Trier challenges his mentor and friend, a fellow filmmaker Jørgen Leth to remake his movie The Perfect Human five times with a different obstruction each time.

First obstruction: Von Trier required Leth to create the film in Cuba with no set and only using twelve frames to answer all the questions in the original movie.

Second obstruction: Von Trier had Leth make the movie in the ‘worst place’ in the world, but without showing the place onscreen.  The meal from the original film was to be included but not the woman.

Third obstruction: Von Trier asked Leth to either re-shoot in the same location or to to remake the film as he chooses (since the second attempt was deemed a failure).

Fourth obstruction: Von Trier required Leth to make the film as an animated movie.

Fifth obstruction (and my favorite): Von Trier makes the movie and Leth must add the voice over  in his style but using the script that Vons Trier has also written.



There are lessons to be learned from this. Intelligent constraints can indeed help fuel creativity and innovation. This HBR post drives home the point of how it is important in business to place constraints to find creative solutions.

5 Obstructions teaches us the lesson that we should to take what we know and reinterpret it in different ways.

Apples and Oreos

“Think different”  by Apple is one such example. Apple reinterpreted personal computers.  Using constraints of design and user experience the company introduced the world to the beauty of computers.

And in today’s content marketing era, real-time trends are the constraints. Oreo is one such brand that understands the real-time constraint to create content. Oreo’s Daily Twist campaign captures it beautifully and more recently, its responsive marketing during the blackout at the Super Bowl will be mentioned over and over again for sometime to come.

Another way to look at this would be crowdsourcing content by placing restrictions to see how consumers can reinterpret the brand. Not only does this provide marketers content it also shows them how consumers tend to think about the brand. It can lend more insight and understanding of the community.

It is important to place smart limitations to spur the creative thinking. Do you agree?  If constraints spur creativity, what can you imagine that Vine might be capable of?

Photo Credit

Krithika Rosenthal
Plotting digital domination. In my spare time I work as a Digital Strategist. Love all things #social, #digital and #marketing!
  • Chuck Kent

    Great post. Creative people should receive limits as gifts: with a sense of gratitude and an eagerness to open them and enjoy them for what they are, not for what are pre-conceived notions were. My suggestion for Vine’s next big application: Buy the (small) screen rights from the winners of those six-word novel contests :)