Three Walls

I recently had a conversation about the Three Wall concept with budding designer Alisa Katz and after our talk she sent me this great image of her own discovery of a literal version of the idea.

One of the principles of creativity that I share in my book Unstuck is the idea that Freedom Comes From Limitations. I learned this in the course of doing my yearlong Skull-A-Day project. I discovered that rather than feeling constrained by having a pre-determined subject (a skull), a strict deadline (one day), and a specific materials to work with (everything from googly eyes to butterflies) I actually felt inspired and motivated to create!

I had always thought that I was being held back in my commercial creative work by the limits that my clients had been imposing on me, but it turned out that those were the exact things that generated my creative inspiration. But I had been expending my energy fighting those limits rather than embracing them and moving forward.

Now when I give talks on creativity I share this concept as Three Walls. If you've got no walls you're just floating in space, there's nothing to push against and you can't go anywhere. If you've got four walls, you're boxed in completely and can't go anywhere either. But if you've got just three walls you can use them for leverage as you rocket yourself out of the one opening you've got.

If this concept seems counterintunitive to you Here's a quick project adapted from my book Unstuck that you can use to experience it in just a few seconds:

Did you know that the words “laser” and “scuba” were originally acronyms? SCUBA stood for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and LASER stood for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, but now they’ve become words in their own right. This exercise gets your creative wheels turning by playing with the potential within the words around you.

  1. Set a timer for 30 seconds.
  2. Choose one of these words: SKULL, BANJO, YOGURT, BOING
  3. Write it vertically (one letter stacked above the other) on a piece of paper with plenty of space to the right.
  4. Don’t spend too long thinking. Just pick a new word that starts with one of the letters within the word you've chosen and write it down in the space next to it.
  5. Work around that first word to quickly create the rest of the acronym. It doesn’t have to be good or even vaguely relate to the word’s meaning. The idea is to do this fast to build up your skill at thinking on the spot.
  6. If you finish before 30 seconds is up, create another acronym for the same word!

Need more creative inspirations? Pick up a copy of Unstuck at your local independently owned bookstore. or online at Powell's Books QBookshop Barnes & Noble or Chapters/Indigo