In 1960, Dr. Suess made a bet with Bennett Cerf, the cofounder of Random House, that he could write a book relying on only fifty different words. Though challenging, the bet resulted in Green Eggs and Ham, a classic that’s beloved in my house (and maybe yours) and Dr. Seuss’s bestselling book.
Constraints, then, can open our minds and drive creativity rather than hinder it. Poetic masterworks spring from the boundaries of verse and rhyme. Masterpieces of Renaissance art started as commissions in which the painter was bound to adhere to narrow specifications and subject matter, materials, color, and size. In our own work, constraints take many different dorms, from tight budgets to standardization. If you ask a team to design and build a product, you might get a handful of good ideas. But if you ask that same team to design and build the same product within a tight budget, you’ll likely see even more creative results. Research examining how people design new products, cook meals, and even fix broken toys finds that budget constraints increase resourcefulness and lead to better solutions.
I give a final striking example, this time to do with publishers. In 1969, Jerzy Kosinsky’s novel Steps won the American National Book Award for fiction. Eight years later some joker had it retyped and sent the manuscript with no title under a false name to fourteen major publishers and thirteen literary agents in the US including Random House, the firm who originally published it. Of the 27 people to whom it was submitted no one recognised it had been published and all 27 rejected it.
Except from: Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland