Limits Are Key To Business Creativity, Wharton Prof Says

By Jane M. Von Bergen
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

PHILADELPHIA

I’m sitting here trying to write the first paragraphs for this article, and the pressure is on.

The story is about a University of Pennsylvania professor who teaches creativity, for God’s sake, meaning I’d better come up with something creative or he will think I’m dull.

Worse, my readers will quit this story and turn to a report about some sports team that wears green jerseys.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a proven method I could use to alleviate my anxiety and devise something creative, other than the traditional techniques of lining my paper clips up by size, biting my nails and drinking coffee?

Something outside the box …

Ah, but that’s the problem, says Rom Schrift, a mechanical engineer turned marketing professor who teaches Marketing 292 to finance types at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Stop trying to escape the box. Instead, embrace it, he advises. “We’ll think inside the box,” Schrift told Wharton graduate students at the first class. “If there’s a box, we’ll use the box.”

Constraints, procedures, templates, spreadsheets, forecasting boxes, attributes, components, these are actually systems to funnel thoughts in ways that are more likely to lead to creative solutions.

Schrift talked about an author boxed in by a challenge to write a children’s book using 50 different words or less. The result, “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss, is one of the top-selling children’s books of all time.

“Maybe there’s a sweet spot where we can actually use constraints in a way that will actually help us,” Schrift told the class.

“There is a systematic approach to creativity,” he said. An analysis of the underlying structure of an idea, or a product, can then reveal places where creativity can occur.

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