How constraints help you be creative

Posted by on Feb 28, 2018 in creativity, design, leadership, learning | No Comments


How constraints help you be creative

Two stories from the world of toys and food that show how turning broken bits into brilliance is more common than you think.

What can you buy in 130 different countries, comes in 53 different colours and 75 billion pieces of it are sold each year?

Answer: Lego.

Translated from the Danish leg godt it means play well.

Lego is something you’ve probably played with, walked over or accidentally vacuumed, and for many decades it’s been helping develop the creativity of generations of children (and big children, too – the 7541 pieces that make up The Millennium Falcon comes in at $800).

But how this beloved international toy maker came to be might surprise you.

Three disastrous events helped shape the colourful toys into what they are.

The story begins during hard times, the Great Depression, the first event to shape Lego.

Ole Kirk Christiansen was a carpenter who lived in Billund in rural Denmark. During the 1930s life was tough and to make ends meet and put food on the table he made wooden toys. Going from shop to shop he bartered these toys in exchange for food from local grocery stores.

Whilst this practical arrangement worked, Ole was seen as a bit eccentric by his peers and fellow townsfolk. They thought such toys useless. Toys such as ducks, trucks and tractors, and yes, building bricks.

But why building bricks?

The second disastrous event to shape Lego was the Second World War.

After the destruction of the war people were literally building new houses to live in and so the idea behind the basic building brick was to be able to build play houses and Lego bricks tapped into the mood of the moment.

Although the bricks were initially made with wood a new material had come along – plastic, and both Ole and his son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, were intrigued by it.

At this point the third disastrous event happened. In 1959 a fire destroyed their wood factory. As a result of this tragedy the decision was made that the future of Lego would be plastic.

And Lego hasn’t looked back since…

Oops, I dropped the lemon tart

Our second story takes us from Denmark to Italy.

It tells the tale of Massimo Bottura, a former drop out who now owns the three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, which has been in the top 5 of The World’s Best Restaurants since 2010.

Massimo grew up in Modena in the 1950s.

Like anyone with siblings he experienced the rough and tumble of play. And it was escaping this that first introduced him to what would become his life’s work, food.

As a little child, Massimo’s safe and special place was in the kitchen. Chased by older brothers he would take refuge under the table on which his grandmother prepared tortellini.

He says “I grew up under the kitchen table at my grandmother Ancella’s knees. This is where appetite begins for me.”

Describing himself as being “Brought up in a land of fast cars and slow food” Massimo speaks of needing to “catch the flash in the dark because it only passes once.” He has a keen awareness of what’s happening around him and it’s that keen awareness that allowed him to turn disaster into one of his most famous creations.

One night at the restaurant one of his chefs dropped a plate and the two remaining lemon tarts were reduced to one.

The chef was mortified at what he had done.

Massimo saw things differently.

“This is so beautiful. Don’t you see? This is perfect.”

Massimo draws a lot of his inspiration for his culinary designs from modern art and he saw the opportunity to use a smashed design to make this a signature look.

He says “I understand that mistakes are human and in a certain way they are beautiful. I think that’s the poetry of everyday life. You have to be ready to see things that others don’t even imagine.”

The episode of the dropped dessert was a pivotal moment and this dessert now sits proudly on the menu under the title of Oops, I dropped the lemon tart.

So, the next time life throws a curve ball or you make a mistake, take a step back and consider if you’ve just made room for creativity.


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