Innovating Without Boundaries Creates Chaos

Innovating Without Boundaries Creates ChaosWhen people talk of innovation they often bring up the requirement for blue sky thinking. This conjures up a picture in the mind where there is total freedom and no restrictions. It implies that parameters are barriers to creative thinking. We don’t buy this and we would go even further and say that innovating without boundaries only results in idea chaos.


  1. We resort to what we know — Paradoxically, when people are given free reign to solve a problem, they tend to be surprisingly uncreative, defaulting to focusing on what’s worked best in the past. This according to Stokes, a cognitive psychologist is due to the fundamental nature of human cognition – we imagine the future from what we already know from the past.
  2. Creates uncertainty — No boundaries also leaves too many questions open, and creates uncertainty and confusion. People often start to fill in the blanks with assumptions because as humans we don’t tend to like uncertainty.
  3. Surface problem solving — As the terrain in which you can play is so broad it encourages only digging a few feet below the surface. If no gold or quick wins are found then you can move on to the next field, country or planet and start digging again! There is no requirement to truly problem solve or find a solution. Efforts tend to not to be focused.


It sounds counter-intuitive, but boundaries can actually boost creativity. Think about procrastination – deadlines ensure a project gets done. When we have a limited scope, then creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer avenues you have open to you, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

By setting boundaries, you are far less likely to get reliable ideas and the chances of novel and surprisingly one’s emerging are much higher. This philosophy has been beautifully summed up by Norman Berry, O&M Worldwide Creative Head who once said “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”.

Creativity is born from butting up against things and finding ways to make something work in a different way. If you have no boundaries, then there is nothing to bounce off of.

The sweet spot for businesses is finding ideas that consumers love and want alongside the business being able to supply them, profitably.


  1. Efficiency — People don’t waste time on ideas that will get discarded later because you are tying down ideas to the boundaries which you know are feasible – you get quality over quantity
  2. Morale — The team feel motivated and more highly invested in the process as they see many of their ideas succeeding to the next stage
  3. Forward thinking ideas — People become more challenging of the norm as they have the freedom to think more adventurously around the defined topic area rather than just skim the surface of a broad area
  4. Focused team effort — Everyones thinking and focus is corralled into the same arena instead of firing off in all directions. It encourages the sharing of selected knowledge, trends, findings, inspiration etc. as there is a clear common goal.

image credit: thierry ehrmann

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Shelly GreenwayShelly Greenway is a front-end innovation strategist and partner at The Strategy Distillery –  a brand innovation consultancy that specialises in opportunity hunting and proposition development. Their success rates are driven by their proprietary consumer co-creation IP.

Shelly Greenway

Front-end Innovation Strategist at The Strategy Distillery, a brand innovation consultancy that exists to increase NPD success rates.




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