The famous adage “learn the rules in order to break them” pretty much sums up the stance of most designers when it comes to perception of constraints. In business there are obvious restrictions, such as time, money, resources etc. and then there are the ones that we have to define for ourselves - the “simple rules”. An innovator faced with limitless avenues to explore with the mindset of discovery can get lost in the labyrinth of possibilities. However, simple rules can focus efforts, leading to higher odds of a positive outcome.
An article by Donald Sull, “The simple rules of disciplined innovation” describes four characteristics of simple rules. The first is to keep them less in number and easy to remember, in order to ensure adoption. The second is that these rules must be well-defined enough to apply to something specific such as an activity or a decision. He warns against making them too constricted, while avoiding making general statements. The third rule is to tailor rules to unique cultures and strategy of organizations. If innovations don’t align with the company’s resources and capabilities they become unviable. Finally, rules should leave room for practicing creative thinking, making them guidelines in essence. By putting a restraint on idea generation, companies (or even any team working on a project) ensures that the ideas result in a balance between efficiency and originality.
In “Design and the Play Instinct”, Paul Rand speaks of two powerful aspects of teaching design and really any other form of creative thinking. The first is the introduction of “Play” to the task at hand and the second is the imposition of formal limitations. His analogy between the latent psychological and intellectual factors present in game-playing as well as in successful problem solving is an intriguing one. This helped me better understand why gamification of tasks is being more widely adopted as an effective motivational and behavioral change tool. He then explains how rules bring about a boundary that invites creation, by in essence challenging the designer to think above and beyond. In reality, we are faced with limitations while coming up with solutions in the design management discipline all the time. These could be in the form of economic, legal, physical, material or even representation of our ideas which instead of taking away to the solution, actually add to how unique and well thought out they are.