Creativity is a muscle. The only way to make it strong is to work out.

You may have heard me share this idea if you've been around me for a reasonable time. And, of course, the opposite is true; if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

Painting, drawing, designing, sculpting, or taking photos are not inherently creative. They are acts that indulge a particular hemisphere of our brains. Anyone can put paint to canvas or capture an image with their iPhone, but that doesn't make it creative.

When we allow ourselves to try new media, mediums, motifs, styles, subject matter, and ideas, that’s where real creativity happens.

The bolder we get with our creativity, the more fearless we become, trying new things more often, but that fearlessness comes at a price.

There is a diminishing return on creativity because the more fearless we get, the harder it becomes to find creative solutions that scare us. And when we get so bold that nothing shocks us, and we continue making what we’ve always made, our creative muscle starts to atrophy slowly,

However, there is one method that is proven to help generate creative thought no matter how bold and fearless we become.


When was the last time you purposely put a limitation on any creative work you made?

How did the work turn out, and how did it make you feel?

Scared, empowered, confused, happy?

Did you continue to use that same approach in your work, or at the very least, did it show you things about your work that you had not seen until then?

When we apply limitations on ourselves, it creates space in our consciousness previously occupied by total freedom, and that space can now be filled with new ideas.

Putting yourself in new boxes presents opportunities to work out of those boxes.

This Feels Strange

My son and I are big fans of Disney’s MCU, but we’re not comic book readers or die-hards.

Spend any time watching reaction videos about any of the Marvel movies and shows, and you’ll find an entire population who will argue every irregularity that movies make against the original comics.

To push back against the irregularities, the ever-brilliant folks at Disney came up with a perfect solution by asking, “What if…”

They made an entire animated series on that topic, indulging the possibility that what we know is only a single version of the stories. Those stories have infinite variations, now referred to as the Multiverse.

It started with the first Dr. Strange movie, then Wandavision and Loki series, What If, Spiderman, and finally Dr. Strange again, and I’m confident we will continue to see it as a recurring theme in movies and shows to come.

Anytime there is a conflict between stories, we are programmed to assume it’s merely a different universe than we expect.

The byproduct is that the MCU has a new tool for creating infinite stories by merely asking, “What if…”

And so do you.

What if?

There are countless ways to implement constraints in your work, but let me kick it off with a few suggestions, and then you take it from there.


  • What if you couldn’t use a computer?
  • What if you only had one font?
  • What if you couldn’t use images?
  • What if you couldn’t use typography?
  • What if you could only use your mobile (non-tablet) device?


  • What if you could only use one brush
  • Or one color but mixed with white
  • What if you worked smaller
  • And then even smaller still?
  • What if you only had cheap materials?
  • What if you only worked on found objects?


  • What if you didn’t have clay?
  • What if you only had one tool besides your hand
  • What if you didn’t use your hands at all?
  • What if you worked blindfolded (safely, of course)?
  • What if you had to implement broken clay pieces?


  • What if you had only a cheap camera?
  • What if you only had an old iPhone?
  • What if you used film instead of digital?
  • What if you doubled-exposed everything?
  • What if you taped off half your lens?
  • What if you shot at it with only a glowstick for light?


  • What if you had only pens, no pencils?
  • What if you had to stay zoomed in the entire time?
  • What if you drew the same subject in several styles?
  • What if you could only use crayons
  • What if you had to draw with an eraser?
  • What if you couldn’t erase anything?

Writers (contributed by Nathan Schuetz)

  • What if you used flowery language instead of simple language? Or simple instead of flowery?
  • What if you wrote a story in reverse chronological order?
  • What if you gave away the ending right away?
  • What if you had a limited set of syllables available to you?
  • What if every paragraph had to have the same number of syllables?
  • What if you had to write a story about analyzing a story?

Many of these suggestions can be carried over to different disciplines, and the more you use them, the more opportunities you will find to add new constraints.

I need some new thinking and want to try some of these in my work. The idea of constantly pushing my creative limits excites me, and I can’t wait to explore these new worlds and share my experiences.

I also invite you to share your exploration, and if you find yourself stuck for ideas, hit me up. I’ll put some limitations on you.

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