Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 17, 2012 5:18 PM

The Endless Opportunity That Comes From Limitations

Is that even possible? When you are so limited, how does that create a word of endless opportunities?

Quick: think of an idea for a TV show as quickly as possible. So, how did you do? What did you come up with? Try again. Quick: think of an idea for a TV about a plane crash as quickly as possible. So, how did you do? What did you come up with? Famed TV and movie producer, J.J. Abrams (Alias, Felicity, Revolution, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Super 8, etc...), was issued the second challenge. Guess what happened? Within ninety minutes, he had the initial outline for the hit television series, Lost. I had the pleasure of attending the Google Zeitgeist event this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Abrams was in conversation on stage with documentary film maker, Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, etc...). Abrams was trying to make a point. Had the television network called him and asked for a new television series, it would have probably taken him months (maybe longer) to come up with a concept he was proud of. Because they asked, specifically, for a TV show about a plane crash, the limitations conjured up ideas and he was able to get to Lost in no time at all.

There's a big lesson here.

We often think that creativity needs to be boundless. What we often don't realize is that the vast majority of the great creative work that we all appreciate was created with boundaries (they could have been anything from deadline and budget to conceptual frameworks or working with a specific direction). Creativity has a funny way of poking through when the rails and scope of a project are more clearly defined.

Marketers forget this.

Because advertising is a function of commerce and creativity, there is often the discussion that the work suffers because of things like budget and time constraints or the stuff we can (and cannot do), according to the brand managers. How often have you heard that the advertising was bad because there was not enough budget to do something good? I fall into another category: what inspires me is the ability to be creative and deliver results in conjunction with constraints (however major or minor). We're constantly fascinated by the story of an individual who came from nothing and managed to thrive. We seem to forget that the inflection point in that story arc happens when the person does something without the traditional resources that other have had to accomplish the same. The limitation were critical to the end result.

Let's not lose that story.

There is no doubt, that it's always wonderful to have an extra day to create something. There is no doubt, that it's always wonderful to have some more budget. In a perfect world, that would be perfect. But things aren't perfect. What will truly inspire? What will truly enable the creative ranks to leave their mark is how they create majesty within the realistic world of constraints and limitations.

And, if all else fails, think about the J.J. Abrams story above and create your own limitations. Who knows, that just might create endless opportunity.

By Mitch Joel