Creative Thinking – the freedom to make mistakes, constraints and the competitive urge


By Gideon Gilda


Primarily, innovation involves creativity and the generation of ideas. It is customary to think that being creative is being able to think “out of the box”, that it is connected to the absolute freedom to think and do whatever we want, something that is free of all constraints – the concept of the “grandes vacances” (=French long vacation).


Creativity does need a certain degree of freedom – in particular, the freedom to detach from existing knowledge, to make mistakes, to risk giving up something important. However, the way to stimulate our creativity is not necessarily through freedom but rather in response to a challenge, placing ourselves in a crisis situation that requires an innovative solution, right here and now, with our backs to the wall! Think about when you last had a creative idea – was it when you were relaxed with nothing troublesome on your mind, or was it when there was an unsolved problem constantly nagging at you? An example of constraint: you have just been fired from your job or the sales of the product you are managing have dropped significantly in favor of the competition and you are forced to reinvent yourself – and do it quickly. [see the bibliography below.]


In terms of results and outcomes, it is exactly the same phenomenon as having to prepare for an exam in 4 months time or running a laid-back project for which there are plenty of resources. When our brain is programmed for relaxation it will not reach results effectively. On the other hand, if the exam is in two days’ time, you are probably already studying for it, and if the project is short on time or resources, you will be more quickly and more seriously engaged – you know action is required – a solution needed.

Developing the ability to think creatively is like improving physical fitness. It only occurs under stress, mainly over the long term. When we talk about innovation as an organizational process, its construction will occur within the constraints of a clear framework and management. Organizational innovation may pertain to the invention of new products or services, problem solving or the creation of a new technology or marketing vision.


Creativity and constraints Nitzan Zohar
Creativity and constraints Nitzan Zohar

Photo by Nitzan Zohar:

Where do we need freedom and where do we need constraints and a framework?

We need the freedom to look for new ideas, to formulate new assumptions that give an alternative explanation for what already exists. We need the freedom to handle mistakes along the way and to define a new direction. Thus, an effective innovation process requires a challenge, constraints and a limited time frame. 

What do we need freedom from?

In innovation and creativity, we must be free from the fear of scorn or of failure. We must also free ourselves from the desire to always be seen as good, smart, knowledgeable and right…..

Innovation competition within your organization

One example of a process that stimulates innovation in an organization is holding a competition for inventions and creative ideas. The process involves the challenge, the constraints and the freedom given, and let’s not forget that our competitive urge brings out the best in us, at least when it comes to innovation outcomes.

We recommend working through the following phases:

  1. Defining a meaningful challenge that cannot be overcome using existing knowledge. A meaningful challenge is one that enables a commercial or technological breakthrough in products or other key organizational processes. The challenge must be precisely defined: what do we want to achieve and what is preventing us from achieving it? The challenge creates the constraint and the desire for immediate creative action.
  2. Disseminating the challenge throughout the organization. Giving freedom to act and a defined timetable for suggesting solutions. A reasonable timetable is 2-3 weeks asking only for the principles of a solution. There is no need to formulate a detailed response – just the general direction and an explanation why it will work. Giving freedom to review solutions within a limited time is the most precise way to obtain results. Restricted freedom makes all the difference.
  3. Competition between those offering solutions, giving them appropriate PR and at the level of senior management. Allocating a realistic budget for them to test and realize the ideas that emerge – at least as far as the level of concept. Showing respect and esteem for all those who rose to the challenge – even if their suggestions were misdirected.

Gideon Gilda

CEO, Panta Rhei Ltd.

Organizational innovation expert



1.1 Jeff Hawkins & Sandra Blakeslee On Intelligence, Times Books, 2005

1.2 Gideon Gilda, Simple – Methodical Inventive Thinking, Problem Solving & New Product Development, Panta Rhei Publications, 2015

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