We’ve all been in situations that have been less than ideal. Your job might suck or your roommates might be a burden on your mind and your wallet. You may feel stuck in a mire of crummy college classes or weighed down by your sycophantic ‘friends.’

But fortunately, for every problem there is a solution just waiting to be discovered. And lucky you, I’m going to provide you with a weapon to be used against adversity of all shapes and sizes; an atomic bomb when it comes to coming up with creative solutions to seemingly invulnerable adversaries.

Ready? Here it is: use only a red crayon.

It’s so obvious, I know. You’re welcome, and let me know how it all turns out.

Oh, you want to know WHY this advice will work? Got it. Let’s talk a bit about human psychology and why being restrained creatively can actually help you achieve better results.

Consider this: when you are given no regulations — no field to play upon, no out-of-bounds or foul polls to look out for — your brain becomes overwhelmed with possibilities.

Say you’re working on an architectural project and the client says ‘just do whatever you want and I’ll pay you for it.’ What would you do?

Chances are, you would do something that you are good at. With all of the choices in the world available to you — you could build the world’s most beautiful bio-dome or the world’s most sustainable outhouse — you would very likely create the same thing that you’ve been creating all along.

It would be a more expensive version of it, sure, and maybe you’d play around a bit with color and such, but overall, there wouldn’t be much novelty or innovation involved. It would be a very well-constructed piece of status quo.

Now think about this: you’re still an architect and are given a particularly tricky assignment. The client wants you to create a housing project for Los Angeles that must be sustainable, modular, and pre-fabricated (they can’t block the intersection it will be at with construction for more than a few weeks). The building also must be affordable to the intended tenants (who are living just above the poverty line) and must derive at least 50% of its energy from off-the-grid, renewable sources. Oh, and it has to be built for under half the cost of an equivalent building that doesn’t have all these special considerations.

Boom! Your mind would be forced into overdrive. You’d have to come up with completely original building shapes and floor plans. You’d need to speak to contractors and purveyors of reclaimed materials to devise new construction methods and processes that would allow the pieces of the building to be manufactured off-site and transported to the build site, while still allowing for additions later.

You’d be forced to utilize that creative side part your brain that you haven’t been forced to make use of since your 2nd grade art teacher took away all the other colors and told you to make a picture of a dinosaur with only the red crayon.

‘A dinosaur? With a red crayon? Is she crazy?’ you murmured to yourself, all the while your hand was scribbling away at the butcher paper, sketching out the outlines of what would become the most ferocious, and unexpected, creature to roam the Earth.

Update: April 24, 2016

Creative limitations are wonderful — I still apply these to the work I do quite regularly. Nothing stimulates one’s innovative capabilities more than boundaries; a bit like a thumb over the nozzle of a hose.

It’s worth noting, too, that I was using the phrase ‘consider this’ a lot back then, way before the concept for my YouTube series of the same name was a consideration.

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