On the advice of a certain someone I started watching the Netflix documentary series Abstract. I watched the first episode about 2 weeks ago and there was a comment that was made by Christoph Niemann as he dumped out a bucket of Legos and with just 5 or 6 pieces snapped together created a recognizable New York city cab. He said “It’s the restriction with Lego….that I enjoy so much.”
This comment has stuck in my head ever since, it’s an idea of the creative process I’ve never put into words before even though I’ve recognized the concept. My wife and I happen to be big fans of the game Minecraft, but I’ve always had a hard time describing why I enjoy it to others that have never played it. The basic concept is that it’s a computer game where you’re in a world made out of blocks (dirt blocks, stone blocks, sand blocks, wood blocks, etc.) and you gather these blocks so that you can build tools to get more blocks and then you use those blocks to build things. It’s like a Legos computer game (as I said, I have trouble describing it). But ultimately there is no point to the game; there’s no end game goal you’re working towards. You’re just building things you think up, and it certainly shouldn’t be interesting to watch someone else play this game…but it is. My wife and I regularly watch a few YouTubers as they post several times a week on what they do in their worlds, and it’s honestly more entertaining that a lot of TV shows I’ve watched.
So what does Lego restrictions have to do with Minecraft? Well just like Legos, building in Minecraft is very restrictive. Not only are you limited to different colored square blocks, but you also have to go out searching for the blocks you want to use. So, when you watch these people build amazing looking structures it’s very impressive, and it’s also a bit inspiring, which is why we both also play the game. We get ideas when watchings others and it makes us want to see if we can build them. And it’s quite satisfying creating something from your head that actually looks good, all while working within these limits.
I think a lot of new ideas can be created and a lot of fun can be had by imposing restrictions on ourselves sometimes. At least personally I find I tend to over do projects because of too many options. My ideas grow too grand and complicated and then never even get started. Hobbies or things I used to enjoy become boring or monotonous because I’ve done them too many times. But by giving yourself an arbitrary random restriction it can bring back that original joy and excitement you used to have. Restrictions can make you look at things from fresh new perspectives and bring out ideas you never would have had before.
So I issue a challenge to those reading; impose a random restriction on one of your next projects. Whether that be cooking a meal, building a table, writing a poem, or painting a picture. Make a dish where every ingredient is the same color, or all start with the same letter. Build something without the use of your favorite tool. Write something without using the letter E. Or paint something using only one brush or color. Do something that makes you have to stop and think of new ways to do something you’ve done a hundred times. Will it turn out great? Who knows, but I bet you’ll learn something along the way.
“In truth, the only restrictions on our capacity to astonish ourselves and each other are imposed by our own minds.” – David Blaine