Spark Your Creativity by Thinking INSIDE the Box

Box tied up with chains

Here’s a little thought experiment for you. You’ll need a watch or timer with a second hand. You have exactly 30 seconds after reading the instructions, to see what you come up with:

Think of a story.

How did you get on? Was it easy? Difficult?

Were you pleased with the story you came up with?

Okay here’s another one. Same rules as before – 30 seconds after reading to come up with the best story you can.

Think of a story about two thieves.

How was that? Easier? Harder?

Let’s do one more. As before, you’ve got 30 seconds to make the most of the instructions.

Think of a story about two thieves. The thieves are brothers, who have spent their whole lives together. All this time, one of them has kept a secret from the other. But recently it’s become harder and harder to keep the secret. The thief with the secret is horrified to notice that it’s starting to interfere with his work – on their last job, they almost got caught because of a mistake he made. But he’s terrified that confessing the secret will destroy their relationship.

How did you get on that time? Was it easier or harder than the previous experiments?

Details, Details

When I’ve run this activity with a group, it is not uncommon for people to ‘draw a blank’ when they do the first experiment. Like the proverbial writer gazing at the blank page, they are stuck for inspiration. ‘Creative freedom’ is usually spoken of as a positive thing – but in this case, having total freedom to write any kind of story they like tends to paralyse people. Even if they do manage to think of something, 30 seconds isn’t long, and because they are starting from scratch to stories tend to be pretty unimpressive.

The second experiment tends to get better results. We may not like thieves, but they tend to have interesting lives. They provoke all kinds of emotions and associations. We are reminded of characters and situations from books and films. Where do they live? What do they steal? Who are their victims? Are they small-time crooks or elite criminal masterminds? Suddenly the whole genre of crime fiction is there for us to riff on. And the fact that there were two of them has all kinds of dramatic possibilities. Why are they working together? Are they part of the same gang? Do they have complimentary skills? Do they like each other, or are they sick of each others’ guts by now? Crime is a stressful business – they must have a few arguments and dustups along the way …

The third experiment usually works better still. In addition to all the great dramatic inspiration from the crime genre, most of us have either experienced sibling relationships ourselves or observed our friends and their siblings at close hand. We recognise the dramatic tension in the interplay of affection and rivalry. And we all know what it’s like to keep a secret, to be afraid that others will find out. The questions come pouring out: What’s the secret? How did he manage to hide it from his brother all this time? Why is it a problem now, when it wasn’t before? How is it affecting their relationship? Does the other thief suspect his brother? Maybe you’ve guessed it already? How is it affecting their work? What happened on that last job? How will the secret come out? Will he confess it or will it be discovered? What will happen then …?

So the more details you are given, the more images and thoughts are sparked in your mind. And the easier it becomes to make up a story. The story starts to write itself, as the details spark questions, the question spark answers and the answer spark images, characters, situations …

But the thing is, every detail that is added to the instructions takes away a little more of your creative freedom. Want to write a story about two window cleaners? Sorry. Rather write about sisters and brothers? Tough luck. Or two brothers with nothing to hide from each other? No chance.

The Value of Creative Constraints

As we saw last week, being told to ‘think outside the box’ is no guarantee of inspiration. And the thought experiments suggest that sometimes it’s easier to be creative ‘inside the box’ of details and constraints.

Could it be that creative freedom is overrated?

Ernie Schenck would answer that question with a resounding ‘Yes!’. As an Emmy Award-nominated creative director with a string of successful advertising campaigns behind him, he should know a thing or two about creativity. In his book The Houdini Solution, he shares the creative wisdom accumulated in his career and invites us to “put creativity and innovation to work by thinking INSIDE the box”:

the biggest secret of productive creative people is that they embrace obstacles, they don’t run from them. In their minds every setback is an opportunity, every limitation is a chance. Where others see a wall, they see a doorway.

Schenck draws inspiration from Harry Houdini, bound in chains and lowered into a glass box full of water. Resisting the box and fighting against the chains would have been fatal. Houdini had first to accept the reality of the constraints on his movement, and work within them to find a way out.

Another of his examples is the Apollo 13 mission, when an explosion on board caused the spacecraft to lose oxygen, electricity, light, and water 200,000 miles from planet Earth. Unless the engineers at Houston could find a solution the astronauts could implement using the materials on board, the crew would die of asphyxiation before they made it back home.

talk about thinking inside the box. You’ve got to design a new product. You’ve got to build that product. Your raw materials consist of cardboard, plastic bags, duct tape, and other low-tech materials. And, hey, just for good measure, you’ve got less than 48 hours to do it all people are going to die.

Fortunately, as we know, in this case necessity really was the mother of invention.

Schenck is scathing about “self-styled creativity guru[s]” who tell us to “think outside the box”:

if only we could free ourselves, if only we could climb out of that infernal box, they told us, we could discover our true creative selves.

And yet for millions of us, those boxes are very real. Almost everything in our lives is a box. Our relationships. Our jobs. Where we live. How young or old we are. Our bank accounts. They’re all boxes. They all have walls. They all have boundaries. But they are not all bad.

So next time you feel frustrated by constraints that limit your options – take a deep breath, centre yourself like Houdini, and start looking for the creative opportunity…

Over to You

What did the thought experiments tell you about your own creativity?

When starting a new project, would you rather have complete freedom or a few pointers as ‘building blocks’ to help you get started?

Can you think of a time when rules and/or constraints helped to spark your creativity?

Do you agree with Michelangelo that “art lives on constraint and dies of freedom”?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

Get past two of the biggest obstacles you will ever face

Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success

If you want to achieve something original and meaningful with your life, you must learn to deal with rejection and criticism.

Mark McGuinness shows you how to handle them in his new book Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

Based on 16 years' experience of coaching creative people like you, Resilience gives you tried-and-tested ways to get past rejection and criticism and succeed on your own terms.

"Read this book and you will be bulletproof!" ~ Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of The War of Art and Turning Pro

Click to learn more about Resilience (and read the opening chapters for free). >>

Responses to this Post

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Creative Block | October 11, 2012

Comments

  1. Or… Get Back in the Box by Douglas Rushkoff.

    Very similar message. I’d love to compare with Schenck, possibly similar messages.

  2. Aaah, a moment of truth – Yes, I am most creative when I have a few parameters to work with, I would say I am good at coming up with creative solutions which implies there has to be something to solve to start with!

    It’s never dawned on me before that explains why I am blank so often when put in a ‘start from scratch’ situation. Give me a few morsels though, and I’m on my way in, out, on, under, through the box, it’s neighbour, village…

  3. People tend to be creatures of habit. Given an abundance of resources, they have little incentive to be creative. But when they’re faced with resource constraints, they are forced to come up with creative solutions, to think “within the box” of the limitations of the currrent situation. Inevitably, there is some element of it that can be turned to their advantage!

  4. One of the reasons I work in series. Limitations. More creativity.

    Part of being a creative is being able to stand and deliver given any number of circumstance and parameters. Requires discipline, knowing the basics structures so you can endlessly apply them with the givens in front of you, hopefully in an inspired way as well.

    Loved that part in Apollo 13. Seems I have lived it. During the storm especially. ( Katrina) Limitations will focus you real quick. ;-)

  5. I was lucky to have a teacher very early on who got this–Miss Owens, my 8th grade English teacher. I’ll be forever in her debt for teaching us that the parameters of assignments made them easier, not harder. (She ran us through a similar experiment only the assignment was to write “a poem” which was followed up by an assignment to write a specific type of poem.) It got me through college assignments in record time–if the professor hadn’t defined an assignment very thoroughly, I’d make up my own requirements and have the whole thing done while my classmates were still thinking up topics.

    Nowadays, I use this on my clients when they complain that an editorial calendar would be too restrictive for their ezines.

    I enjoyed your spin on it, Mark!

  6. I read a book titled “Improvising Jazz” many years back. Jazz is challenging to play for most musicians, not just because of the complex harmonies and rhythms but also because it requires that you “think on your feet”. Improvisation is a cornerstone of jazz. “Creative freedom” is, in fact, overrated as you suggest. “Improvising Jazz”, a classic, might be expected to cultivate or encourage “creative thinking” and other such nebulous concepts. But in fact their approach is nearly the opposite.

    The idea is not that creativity doesn’t exist, but that it exists “in the box”. You have to know your material backward and forwards. You have to know the details. You have to study modes and harmonies and the science behind the music. In my experience, effective creative work is almost always rooted in significant detail and built upon a solid foundation of hard work…hard work that the fan or spectator rarely sees or appreciates.

  7. Great thoughts and they completely resonate with what I think of challenges and constraints. If we keep on waiting for freedom we die free of achievements. We have to work within our constraints and this is the bigger challenge. Any kid can drive a vehicle on the ground with no road and no obstacles. It takes a trained and experienced driver to drive within the peripheries of the road and avoid the obstacles. You reach your destination by remaining on the road.

    It doesn’t mean that you don’t chart your own paths; when you chart your own paths you create your own constraints and you try to operate within those constraints.

  8. Thanks for the great comments everyone.

    Wayde – looks an interesting book…

    Janice – after Katrina I hope the Muse is treating you well!

    Jessica – Miss Owens sounds a great teacher. I love writing poems with complicated forms!

    Christian – I can’t play jazz but I’ve tried doing some acting improvisation and it’s fascinating to see how a few rules/principles can spark a scene to life. It must be the same in music – the best improvisers are often the ones who know formal structures inside out and backwards.

    effective creative work is almost always rooted in significant detail and built upon a solid foundation of hard work…hard work that the fan or spectator rarely sees or appreciates.

    That’s the essence of what we’re trying to get across on Lateral Action. Thanks!

  9. I’ve participated in a few creative exercises which are all about working within constraints — 24 Hour Comics Day, which in its purest form requires you to write and draw 24 comic pages in a 24 hour period; and (shameless self-promotion alert!) my comic Dawn’s Dictionary Drama, where I incorporate computer-selected random words into the dialog, and generate a continuous story that fits into a particular narrative framework. I also know folks who have done other creative challenges like 48 hour film competitions and NaNoWriMo, and the people who seem to do well are good at accepting the constraints they’re given, as well as applying any additional constraints that force them to focus on the finished product, rather than simply tweaking and polishing the work.

    The best part with all these is that, once the challenge is over, I find that I can take that same constraints-based thinking and apply it to real-world decisions — the micro lessons seem to apply pretty well at the macro level, especially the constraints that force you to focus on actually completing the finished product.

  10. I liked my first story from this exercise best – but it was still the “box” of 30 seconds that made it work. There was no time to be overwhelmed with options and possibilities, just time to grab the first thoughts that jiffy-popped into my mind, and run with them.

    I ended up with a dog who (once upon a time) would obsessively chase cars. One day, he caught a car. He bit at the wheel; the hubcap came off in his mouth. He proudly placed the trophy on his head at a rakish angle, so everyone could admire his car-catching handsomeness, and lived happily ever after.

    The “thieves” stories were not as developed in my head, but I’m certain that the secret was that one brother was not a cat-burglar, but a dog-burglar.

    A dog-burglar with a hubcap collection.

    Freedom is found within limits, at least for me – not even a soon-to-be-burgled dog wearing a hubcap is more intimidating than the endless potential of a blank page or canvas.

  11. Thank you.

    Was ‘thinking outside the box’ ever meant to mean ‘thinking without the box’?

    I don’t think so.

    Was it ever meant to replace first exhausting yourself ‘thinking inside the box’?

    No.

    It was always about taking ideas from other boxes and seeing how they might relate and enhance your work within your box.

    There is no thinking without a box. The brain has to have a reference point to relate ideas to.

    The box is the frame, the focal point, the channel in which we are working.

    The box is what engages the purpose driven mind.

    The box is the HUD target overlayed on whatever we are focused on.

    If I sit down to write a piece of music, the box is: the notation paper, the style of music I intend to write, the specific purpose or use for the music, any instrument I might use to help me compose, etc

    If I am then driving along and look out the window and see a load of birds sitting on power lines, and from the angle I’m looking at, I can see that they look like notes on a stave… and I see music in that…that I later write down… that is thinking outside the box in that birds on the line has nothing to do with music but I can relate it to my target, the box, which is to compose a piece of music.

    If I’m on a factory visit, and the way the machines pound rivets inspires an idea for percussion, I’m outside the box but still relating to it.

    Language is so clumsy. Thinking… box… inside… outside. Pah! :-))

    Actually, looking at your exercise, we can take it back to the idea of targetting or focus.

    You start with a box that is so wide open that you can’t see the edges.

    You add a little detail and that narrows and focuses the box, the sides come in as it were. Things are starting to be excluded.

    You add more detail and the box gets tighter still. The more detail, the more focused and targeted the box.

    With your example, the inference is the thieves are two human beings. We can think outside of the box that you have set (but still relating to it), and think of them as 2 ghosts stealing souls, 2 squirrels stealing nuts from bird tables, 2 aliens stealing moon cheese (gotta love that moon cheese!), or 2 N. fowleri amoebas stealing brain cells having got right up your nose!

    The inference is that they are brothers who are related… and not brothers who are monks, or broth-ers (makers of soup, stealers of recipes!)

    We could think ‘outside your box’ (outside the frame you have established) by ignoring it as just an exercise and think instead of fleshing it out into a full blown movie script… or wonder what if this were some kind of unconsciously-driven confessional and what insights we can gain into your psyche by analysing it (“hmm no accidents, why did he choose this story??”)

    I’m thinking outside this comment box now, and thinking its time I shut up, and went to bed. Now there’s a creative thought….

    zzzzzzzz G’night All! ;-))

    Wily

  12. Mark, thank you for the kind words. You have a great blog and insightful readers also. I’m a happy subscriber :)

  13. Hi Mark, good article, I like it. For me an effective creativity = relevant differentiation, just like what your articles try to do.

    Edward

  14. Good article. As often is the case, it’s not “either/or”, but “both/and”.

    True creativity is inside and outside the box. That is the true Quantum perspective on creativity. ;-)

  15. But…but…a few days ago you said there was no box ;)

    For me, I find it alot easier to be creative when there are a few objects that I’m told to work with, rather than having the world as my oyster!

    Cheers,
    Glen

  16. Ohmigod, THANK YOU for saying out loud that I’m not some unimaginative and creativity-less creature hacking at writing! Time and again, I sit there and think, “What to write?”

    Blank page.

    “C’mon, it’s a post about writing. What to write?”

    Blank page.

    Then I ask people to give me a push. “What would you like to see me write about?”

    “Hm. How about the intro paragraph?”

    BOOM! DONE! YES!

    With clients, I typically ask for those pushes. “Do you have any titles or topic ideas you’d like me to write on?”

    And invariably, they blink and say, “Aren’t you supposed to be the creative writer?”

    ARRRRRGGGH!

  17. “Creative freedom” is often used as an excuse not to get down to writing or to bail from a project. I’ve also seen it used as an excuse to work in experimental forms, which are – more often than not – just obfuscation.

    I’m as guilty as any other writer of wanting to run away from the boxes, but I know that I’ll return to them if I want to develop a successful project.

  18. Innovation expert Clayton Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution) was interviewed earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal, and put it very succinctly:

    “If you give people a lot of money, it gives them the privilege of pursuing the wrong strategy for a very long time. In an environment where you’ve got to push innovations out the door fast and keep the cost of innovation low, the probability that you’ll be successful is actually much higher… The breakthrough innovations come when the tension is greatest and the resources are most limited. That’s when people are actually a lot more open to rethinking the fundamental way they do business.”

    Limitations/boxes are good!

  19. Sounds very interesting. I seem to work better under constraints as well. I’m usually a person at work also who is termed the “fool finder”. I usually get people to change work rules out of loop holes that I can find, under no particular circumstance. I just seem to think that way.

    Sometimes it just seems to work out that way. With our society that way it is, and with the people that are the norm, things can go unearthed for a long period of time without noticing.

  20. @chuck frey what a fantastic quote. I’m gonna surely mention this to my team this week. thanks for posting it :)

  21. Like Wily, I believe that thinking outside the box means looking elsewhere, perhaps somewhere seemingly unrelated, and that it does not mean no limits.

    There are also different aspects of creativity – the “what” and the “how”. The “what” is the problem to solve, the thing to be created. That is the box with constraints, and those constraints are a good thing. They are more likely to lead to a suitable result. There is too much design about which simply serves itself, created with no limits. The “how” is where the boundaries can, and often should be, pushed. This is where thinking outside the box (in some other box?) can lead to real innovation.

  22. Constraints are definitely helpful, even necessary. Most people, being creatives or just employees, are looking for the opportunity to have a superior or client lay out the boundaries and then tell them, “Do whatever you want in THIS sandbox.” When you limit the variables, restraining the areas that ARE NOT flexible, you empower yourself and others to excel in completely exploiting the areas and pushing the edges of the areas that ARE flexible.

  23. Great post.

    You know, life itself is not permanent. It has an end.

    But, if life was without end on this earth, how much would we try to make something of ourselves? Be it spiritually, or career wise.

    By being inside the box, it forces you to make things happen.

  24. I froze up with “think of a story,” but immediately thought of how my girlfriend’s 10-year-old could have done it. Of course it would have been about his favorite Pokemon, but no inner critic wouldn’t have stopped him from doing the exercise.

    I very much agree that embracing constraints is not just good advice for creating things, but also excellent advice for living a life as a work of art! To paraphrase Nietzche, “This is exactly what I need.” (Said to anything and everything that comes your way.)

    Constraints tend to not only focus the mind, but the potential number of solutions. In coaching or psychotherapy, one of the first things that is often helpful to do is narrow down the presenting problem, contextualize it, and find the smallest possible solution that will move the situation forward.

    On the other hand, Bradford Keeney in The Energy Break (unfortunately out of print) advocates the practice of automatic movement with almost no constraints or rules (“autokinetics”). Doing this for 10 minutes or more is a practice of directly entering a creative flow state.

    While this takes practice at first, in time this serves to “tune the instrument” for your creative work and life. Keeney in fact argues that the rituals of baseball players (as you wrote about in a previous post) are primarily beneficial due to the spontaneous, non-thinking movement. One could test this by using a classic NLP anchor of a finger and thumb pressed together (having linked this to a “peak performance” state) vs. spontaneous movement and see which works better!

  25. Great article. It told me I am a genius hahaha.

    You see, I don’t think in the box, or outside. I think of being the space within and out of the box.

    You see – I think because I came from another country, where famine was ripe, war, and we lived sometimes in street, or cardboard boxes, so we had to do with what we find to make things and make money.

    Even turning tap on, is strange, and having access to all I see especially internet, having a businesses, etc.

    So, these constraints I had in past, helped to stretch my mind, and now, well, it is easy to do things, even what some may see as possible.

    These are things that test us but also enable us to see how amazing and creative we are.

    Cheers for the article. brought back some memories.

  26. Thanks for the article, Mark. Your thoughts remind me of Covey and how he talks about working within your sphere of influence.

    I prefer to work with constraints, or at least guidelines to get started. The most creative sessions come out of brainstorms, working with people I have a high synergy with.

    One example I can think of – my student organization just won a $400 mini-grant from our college for a guerilla marketing campaign on environmental awareness. It was difficult at first, but after brainstorming for an hour we organized a campaign involving street performers.

    Yes, I agree with Michelangelo, but I’m also reminded of Jackson Pollack. That guy seemed to work entirely without constraints. Toe each his own, I guess.

  27. Certainly, I have been in many a project with limitations that sparked up my creativity and i was happy for it. The way i see it, details, contraints or limitations are what gives our creativity direction. What’s the use of a power that isn’t channeled towards something? The whole point of being creative is to accomplish an end. This end could be ours (internal) or from others (external), doesn’t matter which it is, but in both cases one thing is certain, that end has to be specific!

    Simply being creative with no end in mind, is simply being busy doing nothing. So yes, i concur with the benefits of thinking inside the box. Creative people need details so as not to get lost in the creative process.

  28. So true.

    Back in school I used to go to this art class in which the teacher would give us an exercise which was, in fact, a certain limitation. “Choose a narrow or wide piece of paper”, “Use only two colors”, or a more conceptual limitation such as “Paint a sequence”. Sometime he would give something really vague like “paint a moment”.

    I have about a hundred paintings piled up to prove that this works. You need a context.

  29. Long time reader first time commenter.

    This technique applies in many places where creativity is needed. I wrote an article awhile back on using this technique for songwriting:

    Songwriting Tip: Constrained Writing

    Constraints inspire me. A deadline is a constraint, and forces me to stop overthinking and just “let go” and write music.

    Great article. Thanks.

    DM

  30. Wow thanks everyone, really great feedback and examples. Impossible to single out any of them – well worth making a cup of tea and sitting down to read them all carefully.

    You know, Lateral Action is turning into my favourite blog – I’m sure I’m getting just as much from reading the comments as anyone does from reading the articles. :-)

  31. Personally I prefer a few pointers as ‘building blocks’ to help me get started – if not I will take tooo long and creative process stop. Some pointers speed up my creative process.

    Great blog. Added to bookmarks!

  32. I welcome any opportunity to step outside of self limiting boxes. Your wonderful blog is certainly a great motivator.

  33. Thanks Antonio, Haleh.

    @Haleh – Did you see my e-book, How to Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself)?

    http://lateralaction.com/articles/motivate-creative-people/

  34. I find myself stuck in a continum of plans and thoughts, ideas of projects to do, begin, finish and complete, almost all of the time. Matter of fact, I run into projects (via other people) and I go off with ideas and ways to enchance, or convey their message, product or whatever it maybe. But when it comes down to doing something for myself, …I go blank with the (why, whats, where and when’s, I know the why, but I really get jammed up.
    Whenever I let meself go on a whim’, I find I can’t stop doing what it is that takes me in this direction. I do enjoy it, but I find myself with much of this, with plans to do something with what I have as a result.
    I consider myself a graphic designer; what a ‘Box’ that can be? I also do layout and design work, photography, analog printing (offset, letter press and sild screening). From photography I correct photo, including color correct, repair, enlarge and manipulate, along with developing composites. How does one include that many avenues under one umbrella?
    On top of all of that, I need to develop my own website (let alone the pages within’)
    I feel as backed up as any constipated …….” any suggestions would be pleasantly appreciated.

  35. I do find that I can better relate to what a client might want with some, if only a few, parameters. I like the thought of having no bounderies, or total freedom in creating something for a client. But, as stated in the above article, often times I draw a blank and I find it difficult to begin. With some stipulation of what the client(s) want, some ideas, or starting point, I can add and imagine what will/could be without stopping; or so it seems.
    The idea of turning around the old addage of ‘Thinking outside the box’, does make sense when you think of it as having a blank canvas with nothing on it, or having one with dot or square or even just a line on it!
    The author is correct when he states that its better to have some constaints because it stems the flow of ideas…
    very good?

  36. You know, when the instructions said ‘think of a story’ it took me less than five seconds to come up with ‘cinderella’. The instructions didn’t say ‘Make up a story’ which would have been quite different.

    The second exercise proved to be much harder, because I don’t recall any stories off the top of my head about two thieves specifically. My mind leaped to Ali Baba and the 40 thieves but it took me longer than 30 seconds to come up with the title. :)

    And the third exercise was basically impossible, having admitted I don’t remember any stories about two thieves. It was only after I read the rest of the article that I realized I needed to come up with a story from scratch.

    I guess my box is made of something different than the rest of the folks who commented.

    Kristina

  37. Mr. McGuinness:

    I’ve “tweeted, dug, stumbledupon, etc.” What an a-ha moment for me!

    I never thought obstacles and rules and deadlines and … could be so beneficial to me. You’ve given me/us such a “Houdini” way to escape the negative feelings associated with constraints.

    I must go “limit” myself by reading more of your articles.

    Thanks for posting such a refreshing article!

    -Charlie

  38. @Billy – I know what you mean about having lots of interests/ideas. I find if I break it down and focus on ONE project a day (plus the usual daily tasks) I get more done.

    If you’re still feeling stuck, have a look through my series on breaking through creative blocks, to see if any of the suggestions are helpful: http://lateralaction.com/articles/smash-your-creative-blocks/

    @Kristina – I guess the moral is there’s no one-size-fits-all where creativity is concerned. :-)

    @Charlie – My pleasure, thanks for spreading the word! And if you really want to limit yourself, how about doing a lesson a week for the next 6 months in my free Creative Pathfinder course? ;-) http://lateralaction.com/pathfinder/

  39. I must be the first person that had more luck with the first one than the second one. The first story wasn’t much of a story, didn’t really have a theme, but it had a beginning and an end. When the conditions were refined the second time around, I went 30 seconds without a beginning or an end or an idea what was going on. So I don’t know about you or others that have done this, but for me the second one drew a blank but the first one didn’t.

  40. I think the reason the first one was much easier for me was because the freedom to make any story made use of the fact that my mind can focus on a million different things at any single point. If I have to focus one one thing, as opposed to whatever comes to mind, i have to mentally force it and it’s not natural for me to do that. I don’t know, but I do know that we’re not all the same and you should never assume we’re. Sometimes you have to let people be themselves.

  41. For example, lets say your mind has been on fishing, lately. Now, you step into a room and a man asks you to come up with a story about two businessmen. You sit and have to think about it because you’re not familiar with the business world and also because your thought process is on fishing not on business.

    So… this same person walks into a room and a man asks you to come up with a story, any story. So you write a story about fishing that involves two fisherman that get caught in a storm and survive but lose their trophy fish. Since your mind was already on fishing, it was easy to write.

  42. And btw, the 3rd exercise had way too much information and I didn’t even try. I’m not insulting anyone, but I was already swamped with too much information on the 2nd exercise, and there’s no way that the 3rd was going to be acceptable. Anyway, I feel all alone on this.

  43. I seriously thnk some people’s minds work differently. After reading the comments I AM the only one. Whatever.

  44. Could it be that thinking inside the box as is portrayed here is actually thinking outside the box? The reason I ask is because for me the first exercise was easier but that’s only because I can go with whatever comes to mind – which is usually something within my box that i’m familiar with or have been wondering about. If I’m forced to think about one particular thing, it’s not likely already in my box and requires considerably more energy – 30 seconds isn’t enough. So maybe I’m inside the box and the rest of you that think you’re inside are actually outside.

  45. I did not experience the predicted progression of “most difficult to easiest” in the story-making. for me, the most difficult was the last, to try to encompass everything that was going on–TMI, and not mine. Perhaps if I had a classroom “50 minutes” to write a story, I could have done the background information justice. and produced something very good. i found the first exercise difficult, as predicted, the last uninteresting and unmotivating, at least as an impromtu exercise, and the second lots of fun -I liked my story, which had lots of promise to be expanded if i wished. This did tell me about myself and where I like to have my “box,” so I appreciate the exercise.