– By Mike Konzen, principal and chair
Unlimited budget. Complete freedom to dream. No constraints. Unfettered, out-of-the-box creativity. Isn’t this the ideal scenario to design the best attraction experience?
Of course not.
In an article for Businessweek, Marissa Ann Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, wrote:
“When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the ‘rules.’ Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained.”
Anyone who has been trained in a design discipline knows that constraints sharpen and focus our thinking. Constraints compel us to make smarter choices, and prioritize the results we seek. Constraints cause us to create the best value and impact for the limited resources that are part of any project.
Psychologists have researched this phenomenon. At the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Social Psychology, a study proved that tough obstacles can prompt people to look at the “big picture.” This ability is called “global processing,” which is a key aspect of creative thinking.
At PGAV, we are drawn into this type of creative global processing in managing project budgets. This is especially true in highly competitive markets, where other operators often have much larger development budgets. Faced with such a challenge, the team will necessarily prioritize and examine all project elements, inventing better ways to get “bigger bang for the buck.”
To be sure, the pressure to work within constraints can be intense. Our teams have to collaborate in “group global processing.” As Diane Lochner, PGAV Vice President says: “It’s as if we are all potters at the same wheel starting with an unshaped mass of clay. molding, applying pressure and forces, spinning, reforming, adding, refining. Ultimately using all our tools and constraints to form that beautiful solution.”
Cost is just one of many constraints that we can use to great effect.
To design complex projects, from resorts, to museum and zoo exhibits, to multi-faceted theme park attractions, we must embrace constraints at every phase of development. Like any creative process, it is not perfect or clean. But the end result comes closest to yielding the highest value for our clients.
When an experienced design team embraces creative constraints, breakthroughs can sometimes happen. Faced with the need to create something really exceptional with limited resources, the team can seek a wider range of approaches, often developing non-traditional solutions.
In her book Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough, author Patricia Stokes examines ways that artists, writers, and designers strategically use constraints to inspire creativity, sometimes leading to truly inventive results. Faced with the opportunity to create almost without limitation, the world’s greatest creators strategically introduce constraints into their process. How they use these constraints sets the stage for true breakthroughs in their discipline.
As my late partner Jim Moorkamp said, “Create something beautiful by solving very complex challenges.” Our work should not be successful in spite of these challenges, but because of how we choose to use these challenges as creative constraints.