TED-Ed: The Power of ‘Creative Contraints’

(This article is targeted at budding young engineers & scientists)

Imagine you’re asked to create something new. You can make whatever you want, with whatever materials you want, in any shape or size you want. Easy? Sounds easy, but is actually hard to do.

Unlimited freedom isn’t always very helpful when you want to be creative. In real life we are restricted by several limits or constraints such as cost, what materials are available, and the skills we have.

But a constraint, just like a problem, often spurs us to discover solutions to overcome that problem. These creative constraints apply to everyone – scientists, engineers and artists. There’s that old saying: ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

For example, sending a rocket to outer-space required scientists to find solutions to many constraints: the spaceship needs a huge amount of power to escape earth’s gravity, but to carry useful (heavy) cargo into space (scientists, equipment, etc) it needs more power. The more power it needs the more fuel it needs. And the more fuel it needs, the more fuel-weight it will need to carry, which then means even more fuel needed to get the spaceship into space. And so on.

Click here for a TED-Ed video on creative constraints that NASA (the National Aeronautics & Space Administration of the USA) had to deal with in the Viking Mars landing program.

There may not be an immediate solution to a problem, but often we make other useful discoveries along the way. This explains, for example, why car companies spend millions of dollars on concept cars and race cars – they discover advanced design solutions along the way that they can use to be competitive in their normal car production.

‘Constraints are not the boundaries of creativity but the foundation of it’.

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