Turning problems into solutions

Constraints are good. Sometimes.

They certainly made Houdini more creative.

Actually, we impose constraints on ourselves and our students all the time, paradoxically increasing creativity by doing so. Often, for instance, we give a two-part test, one part of which is calculator-free. (Note the positive spin on “no calculators.” Subtle, isn’t it?)  Or we say “find the solution without using trigonometry” or “solve this without the quadratic formula” or “answer in ten words or less” — not to mention the famous tasks of doing a geometry construction with only straight-edge and compass or writing a complete story in six words. Writing a poem in sonnet form actually promotes creativity rather than stifling it. Lining up in order of birth date without speaking or writing stimulates creative thinking. And so forth.

John Spencer wrote a great post on this issue a few days ago. Some concrete thinkers might miss his level of abstraction, which is why he makes sure to point out that he’s not really talking about the specific anecdote that he tells. He’s talking about

systems architecture. This is what happens when you create structures and processes that solve problems. Systems architecture is at its best when people invent creative solutions that don’t require additional time or resources and get full buy-in from users. The best solutions are the ones where people want to embrace the solution rather than feeling coerced to follow it.

Read Spencer’s post, and watch the two short videos embedded in it. There are all sorts of worthwhile thoughts there.


Categories: Teaching & Learning