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5. Boxes

5. Boxes

Just as necessity is the mother of invention, constraint may well be the godmother of creativity. Forget sheer artistic prowess, but give only a pair of scissors and a sheet of paper to a class of third-graders and creativity will go through the roof.


It’s often by applying a strict system of rules -- so strict, in fact, that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option -- that you force people to step out of their comfort zone and to find new ways of expressing themselves. Like young rising star Montreal chef John Mike said at a recent CreativeMornings event: Sometimes I need a box to think out of it.


"I need a box to think out of it" -- John Mike, Tripes & CaviarThe expression has been more used than the Led Zeppelin records in my uncle’s basement, I know. But take a look at Hydro-Québec’s research institure, IREQ, and the way they have grown around the edges of the classical stage-gate process to better take advantage of fuzzy front-end potentialities. They have also punched holes through their boxes, to let ideas filter -- open-innovation-funnel style --  in and out of an ideas reservoir.


PechaKuchas are another great example. Ask any seasoned manager, speaker or academic to reformat their talk in the ‘20 slides x 20 seconds’ straightjacked and you’ll see cold sweats dripping from their chin. The result may not always be the mindblowing presentation you would expect from a TED speaker, but the exercise itself will have forced the speaker to look at his own ideas -- and how they should be communicated -- in a new light.

Forcing groups of people to create outstanding omelets from a handful of almost random ingredients may sound trivial. None of the creations will taste as good as the simpler, purer version you would eat at Mont-Saint-Michel. But from the experiment, you may be able to salvage some worthwhile innovations, and, if you’re lucky and have a keen eye, the seeds of next big thing.


This text is part of a series written in the context of the Fifth edition of the Montreal-Barcelona Summer School on Management of Creativity, organized by Mosaic HEC Montréal and Universitat Barcelona, July 9 to 24, 2013.
Illustration by Studio 923a. Read all posts in the series at

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