Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jump back into that box!

Remember that wonderful advice about thinking outside the box? You do?

Well, forget it.

Creativity researcher Jacob Goldenberg, Ph.D. says creativity flows more freely, more effectively, within a "closed world."

"Getting outside of the box is not a useful idea," says Dr. Goldenberg, professor of marketing at the School of Business Administration at Hebrew University, Jerusalem and visiting lecturer at the Columbia Business School. "It could be used as a metaphor for a creative idea but not for the creative process itself. There is a box--the closed world--and the solution is inside it, not outside of it."

Solutions to practical and aesthetic problems can often be found within the problems themselves, he says. Constraints actually increase creativity because they restrict unnecessary distractions that can take us far off track or a myriad of choices that can confuse us. What's more, the popular practice of brainstorming with others actually generates fewer original ideas than do individuals working alone because of the likelihood that an individual's ideas will be ignored or discounted before they have had a chance to develop and show their potential.

While Dr. Goldenberg's interesting presentation at 92Y last Wednesday drew on examples of inside-the-box innovation within commercial product development and marketing--from Betty Crocker instant cake mix to the iPod Shuffle--a few writers in attendance questioned how his ideas could be applied to the creative arts.

This is clearly not Dr. Goldenberg's area of concern and expertise. But the questions made me think about poet friends and teachers who greatly enjoy working forms like sonnets or haiku or villanelles or the various game-like OULIPO structures. (Here's a fun OULIPO example.) The closed world of formal structure and technique obviously holds great significance in dance--from ballet to sacred hula and salsa dancing--and provides firm ground, to varying degrees, for the flow of creativity in movement style and performance.

So, here are a few questions for contemporary artists who work outside of traditional technical or cultural structures:

Have restrictions ever enhanced the creativity and effectiveness of your solutions? What constitutes your closed world? What structures do you like to have in place for creativity to flow?

Feel free to drop your comments below!

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1 comment:

Dancing Arts Center said...

As a teacher of dance, I, too, believe that there must be enough structure to elicit inspired creation. From choreography to improvisation, dancers are most effective in reaching an audience when employing technique, within a defined space, and clear intent. The creation / invention is derived from the known to surprise and engage viewers.

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