Your creativity is limited to what you know

A problem many people face when it comes to thinking creatively is that the possibilities seem infinite.

There’s so much that might be that it becomes paralyzingly to try and imagine what could be. Anything that can be dreamed can be a solution to a problem. In our imagination, anything goes.

But that’s not how creativity works, that’s how imagination works. And while the two are inexplicably linked, the differences are important to learn.

Creativity deals with what is possible based on real constraints. Imagination is limited to our mental constraints. Imagination can influence creativity, and creativity can exist within imagined scenarios, but the distinction between the two is what enables or hampers our ability to use them.

If you approach anything with the intent of being creative, but fail to research and acknowledge the constraints you’re dealing with, you’re going to run into disappointment. Expecting to be creative without limits isn’t being creative, it’s being imaginative.

Instead, moving into a problem or space with the full knowledge that creativity will be grounded in what you know and have available to you is going to power you through it. But how exactly do you do that? One tried-and-true approach I’ve found is to make a list. A written list outlining everything you know about the problem or project, along with everything you have available to you in order to get through it, allows you to create a resource you can refer to throughout the work of ideation. And the list doesn’t have to be anything formal or even structured. A quick list of top-of-mind constraints and considerations can do more for your creativity than a well thought-out and formal list of pros, cons, and possibilities.

The painter always sits down with the tools he has available to him, in front of a canvas with a set size, knowing what his abilities will enable him to create. A chef comes to the table prepared with ingredients and supplies at the ready. It doesn’t matter what the specifics of the constraints are in either case. What matters is that the creative knows there are limits and has familiarized themselves with them.