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Can Limiting Information Engage the Imagination?

A chapter I authored for the book "The Laws of Subtraction" by Matthew E. May

Over the course of my 20+ years in the realm of Design, I’ve come to believe that in order to be creative, we must subtract judgement from imagination.

We can do this only by recognizing and removing barriers to creativity.

Barriers to creativity fall into two groups: habits and blocks. Life conditions us into developing habits – they help us perform many of our daily activities both personal and professional and hence become ingrained. James L. Adams, in his book Conceptual Blockbusting, identifies four blocks to creativity: perceptual blocks, emotional blocks, cultural /environmental blocks, and intellectual/ expressive blocks. Combine habits and blocks and what you have is a formula for rigid thinking or imagination that comes preset with judgement.

Given that over 90 percent of formal education trains our judicial thinking, teaching us the "one correct way" to solve problems and to judge others' solutions and the overwhelm of the information age we all live in— I believe there is a strong case to be made for how limiting information actually engages the imagination.

Here’s a few simple illustrations on how limiting information actually engages the imagination. You’re probably familiar with the “connect the dots” puzzles we’ve all solved as children…essentially you get a bunch of dots with numbers attached to them and connecting the numbers together result in a specific figure/shape.

So connecting the above numbers 1-4 will lead to this shape – a diamond.

Great – problem solved, mystery picture now reveals itself, we feel validated that we’ve taken the information given i.e the numbers and connected the dots to create an intended form.

Now, what happens when you’ve been given these dots WITHOUT in information has been limited or removed all together… how does that invite your imagination to interact with these dots? This is where the fun really begins ☺

In a span of 15-20 minutes, I generated half a dozen unique patterns or designs from the blank grid...if I kept going, I would most likely generate a dozen more…but the point of this exercise is to illustrate how limiting information engages the imagination…This simple exercise reinforces for me Picasso’s famous quote

“To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”

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