Are People More Creative or Productive Working without Limits?

No. Absolutely not. Boundaries matter. One of the biggest threats to not reaching your goal is working without limits. The biggest disaster most people have is when they’re given an unlimited budget, no deadline, or no expectations. I see it all the time in Hollywood, where a movie director has experienced success, so a studio gives him total freedom. Most of the time, that results in a disastrous movie.We also see it with government contracts.

The less accountability, the higher the cost overruns and delays. The truth is, whether they admit it or not, creative and productive people operate best in the context of boundaries. Not rigid rules or unrealistic burdens, but constructive markers and expectations. For me it’s deadlines.

I can’t even really get excited about a project until we get near the deadline, then everything kicks in. If you’re in a situation with no outside boundaries, then impose them yourself. Give yourself a deadline or a limited budget. And if you’re a leader, never let your employees operate without clearly marked expectations. Then get out of the way and let them run. You’ll find it creates far more incentive to excel.


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  1. Great post- your comments are very reassuring. I’ve always operated best with boundaries. They keep me from that ‘thought paralysis’ that ensues when I begin to second guess my choices because “there might be a better way….” I always thought of it as a creative weakness on my part.

  2. Yes I totally believe in creative boundaries; its the old expression “Youth is wasted on the Youth”. When I was younger and had all the time in the world I didnt do much with it. Now that I’m older with more responsibilities, I manage my time alot better and can write about 1400 words of my novel in about 2 hours before work each day.

  3. Great post.  When I was my most innovative, strategic and fruitful in ministry is when my budget was cut.  Cut drastically.  I had to do what was most important to the success of the ministry’s mission and we saw fruit that was unparalled in our ministry.  

    Although I was bent at first because my budget was cut, it challenged me to do things we had never done before.  It was one of my favorite times in ministry.  

  4. Duncan is SPOT ON.  One of the greatest sins of churches and non-profits is the lack of respect and understanding of right brain people.  Yes deadlines are important and we all need parameters but you won’t get good work from craftsman unless you understand their craft and their need for space and flexibility within that space.

    Artists do not subscribe to Steven Covey or Kevin Blanchard – some of the greatest inspiration can come outside the boundaries of nine to five.  Because we don’t understand that, we have produced some of the most vapid “art” in the history of the world – what Keith Green used to call “fish and dove junk.”  Christian bookstores are full of “stuff” that compromises our witness and marginalizes the name of Jesus Christ.

    And – important to also note that the Eurocentric model of time is not the world’s standard.  There is for example the Afro-centric model – “time begins when you get here.”  The best creative work happens in a Cristocentric space that is respectful of God’s gifts and is multi-ethnic and multi-racial.

  5. Agreed. Boundaries are meant to pushed. If they are not there to be pushed, I don’t think the creatives will be as inspired to really push the envelope with what they can do. Creatives are driven by what they can get away with–from the bigger explosion nobody thought would work (financially or logistically) to a story that barely fits within the parameters.

  6. When George Lucas made Star Wars he made it on a comparatively small budget and with great restrictions. The result was a landmark, industry changing film event that divided cinema history into two eras in a BC/AD kind of way, and led to two extraordinary sequels in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (both of which were also pioneering films produced under considerable pressure and risk).

    With the prequels, he had unlimited money and creative freedom and they were a pale shadow of the original trilogy. And no – you can’t claim that children of the prequel era will view them the same way my generation views the originals. My five year old son asks to watch the originals again and again. He was largely indifferent to the prequels.

    That said, there are very rare occasions where a blank cheque can produce brilliance (The Lord of the Rings trilogy for instance).

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