Juggling in a Cone: Creativity and Constraint

Published on by Lisa Gates.

I've been reading a lot about creativity lately because it is central to my practice as a mediator and central to the business opportunities of my commercial clients. As Colin Powell says when speaking to business people, "to negotiate a deal, you need to be inside the other guy's decision cycle.

Understanding the creative process in business is one of the ways I try to stay in my clients' decision cycles.

So why Juggling in a Cone? 

Two reasons.


First, it gives me hope for humankind.  That we follow the creative call and then spend hundreds (THOUSANDS?) of hours perfecting our heart's desire without realistic chance of material gain  makes me believe we WILL find solutions to global warming, tribal and border warfare, poverty and disease.  I can't help myself.  Juggling in a Cone makes me marvel, makes me laugh, lights up my world.

Second, Juggling in a Cone is all about exploring creativity with severe constraints.  There's not a lot of room in that cylinder.  Given its limitations, what might a juggler do?  Hit the play button and see if you're as enchanted as I am. 


In Turning Limitations into Solutions (the February online issue of Business Week) Marissa Ann Mayer, vice-president for search products and user experience at Google, says

Creativity is often misunderstood. People often think of it in terms of artistic work -- unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. If you look deeper, however, you'll find that some of the most inspiring art forms -- haikus, sonatas, religious paintings -- are fraught with constraints. They're beautiful because creativity triumphed over the rules. Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity, in fact, thrives best when constrained.

Yet constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Disregarding the bounds of what we know or what we accept gives rise to ideas that are nonobvious, unconventional, or simply unexplored. The creativity realized in this balance between constraint and disregard for the impossible are fueled by passion and result in revolutionary change.

Having recently been turned on to cartoonist and copyrighter Hugh McLeod's Gaping Void comics (care of Geoff Sharp's eagle eye) I find that artists have been hip to the creativity-constraint principle for some time.  In McLeod's case, the constraint is the size of a business card.

In mediation practice -- the practice building part -- the constraint is generally expressed as a series of reasons one can't make a living at it -- the pro bono panel distorts the market, I'm not a judge, I'm too young, I did transacitonal work, I came to the market too late, there are too many mediators in Los Angeles, the commercial panels have the market all tied up, etc., etc., etc.

If we use these constraints rather than complain about them, we might find ourselves, well, juggling in a cone.

For excellent advice from an artist about pursuing your heart's desire, go to the extended entry, Advice on Being Creative .  I took the time to read this in full yesterday -  a highly worthwhile time commitment.  I recommend it to anyone searching for a solution to the intractable problem of "what are we to do with our one and only lives?" 

Published on by Lisa Gates.