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The Benefits of Creative Constraints

What is a Story Sprint?

Most creatives think that they want total freedom. Ask any artist if they prefer to work under a set of rules and guidelines or with absolute free reign and almost all of them will choose the latter.

But the tyranny of total freedom can hamper creativity. Focus can be hard to prompt without some rules. Concentration can wane without deadlines.

Conversely, well-designed creative and workflow boundaries can be a boost.

Well-designed creative and workflow boundaries can be a boost.

A favorite example of this phenomenon comes from the world of postmodern literature. Oulipo was a loose group of writers, mostly in France, who employed self-imposed creative constraints in their writing. Georges Perec, a member of the group, wrote an entire novel, La disparition, without using the letter e. E is by far the most common letter in the French language with usage above 15%, so clearly the inability to use it was a significant constraint. In English, e is used slightly less, but it’s still decisively the most common letter at 12.5%. That didn’t prevent Gilbert Adair from translating the novel into English. The translated version, A Void, also managed to avoid using e, a feat which was arguably more stupendous than the writing of the original novel.

Imagining similar constraints in our daily work can be a useful exercise. What would it look like if we accepted an urgent project upon the condition that we were only allowed to devote 3 hours per day to it? Or if we were tasked with creating a visual design language while agreeing to use only 2 colors? Or if we decided to coordinate a remote team spread out across the world with the stipulation that no one is allowed to use email?

In most cases, constraints are given to us. Tight deadlines, budgetary ceilings, personnel limitations, brand guidelines… But imagine if we got to choose.

At Tell it -Together, we like to talk about the concept of sprints. Story Sprints, in particular, involve working closely with our clients for a predetermined amount of time (3 days, a week, 10 days).  During that time we devote the entirety of our energy and focus to a singular endeavor. They are intense, process-driven brainstorming sessions. The deliverables include a wide menu of proposed solutions and detailed blueprints for producing each one.

 

We sprint because it makes everyone quick and agile. By removing the luxury of pushing back a meeting, stakeholders are required to be directly involved. By organizing sprints around a finite time frame, the ideation process is lean and efficient. By starting with a conceptual structure for creative thought, ideas grow within the boundaries that are most useful.

The reality is that everyone constantly battles constraints in any endeavor. Through Story Sprints, we work with our clients to take back the power even before we begin, by crafting constraints that serve to help and not hinder.