Why C.J. Chilvers Is Wrong

From C.J. Chilvers:

Constraints breed creativity.

Before I tear C.J.’s point a new one, I want to make a few things clear: I have nothing but respect for C.J. and admire the crap out of his worldview (regardless of how much I enjoy debating with him). He’s also far from the first person to express this idea, he’s just a champion of it. While the title is link-baity as hell, it’s only because I think there is a really important, but really subtle distinction that warrants discussion. Well, that and the fact that I really want you to listen to today’s episode of the podcast where we mercilessly duke out this topic and more. It’s easily one of my favorite episodes.

Requisite disclaimers aside, let’s get into the meat of why he is wrong and I am right. It’s not constraints that continue to breed creativity, but our choices. As you’ll hear in today’s episode, C.J. uses George Lucas and Van Halen as his proof of concept. When they lacked resources, they were creative. When faced with unlimited resources, not so much.

While these are clear examples of excess leading to excrement, their problem was neither one of abundance or restriction. Their failures are not a lack of constraints, but are the byproduct of bad choices.

Forced restrictions aren’t going to make things better or interesting (hopefully Paul Miller’s idiotic internet sabbatical will prove this once and for all). More often than not, they are just some gimmick to make less interesting work seem more important (you know, like blogging five days a week for a year or “calling C.J. out” in this post for that matter…).

Our choices, however, are important. And to be clear, this isn’t a question of having choices, it’s a matter of making better ones. While far more rare than Lucas and Van Halen, there are companies and creators like Apple and Steve Jobs that have unlimited resources, yet manage to make intentional choices that lead to better results. This results in compromises and it does create constraints, but they all stem from the choices, not external (or even self-imposed) circumstances. Apple doesn’t deny themselves the right to use a certain technology, they choose the right ones to make the best possible products.

At the core, C.J. is really right. In fact, he’s spot on. We need less crap and we need less complexity. We need more creativity and more intent in our work. He’s just wrong about where it will come from. It won’t stem from constraints or forced restrictions. You can’t ignore abundance and overload. You just need to stare them in the face and then make better choices.

For more, be sure to give today’s podcast episode, with special guest C.J. Chilvers a listen. We cover a lot, but overall it is an interesting examination of the differences between creative and analytical minds.

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