Playing Guitar With Three Missing Strings

Studying jazz guitar in college, I had a professor that would force me to remove strings from the instrument. One, two, sometimes three strings had to be removed before I attempted a performance. You might guess that gutting half of my available resources would crush my ability to play, let alone be creative.

Yet a surprising and counterintuitive thing happened. When those strings were off, I could no longer rely on the patterns I knew. I was forced to solve musical problems in totally different ways. As a result, my creativity didn’t crumble… it soared.

Nearly all of us are faced with some form of limited resources. There’s never enough time, capital, bandwidth, talent, facility space, or raw materials. But those resource-constrained situations can help us unlock of our gifts of inventive thinking. When we are forced to solve problems in radically new ways, we make up for the lack of external resources with our internal resource of human creativity.

The concept of a ‘forced handicap’ is not new. Athletes train with ankle weights, in high altitude climates, which helps push their capacity to new levels. Teams often perform at their best when coming from behind, with just a few minutes left on the clock. Inventors discover breakthrough when their back is to the wall, under poor conditions and dwindling resources.

If more resources equated to more creativity, the federal government would be the most imaginative organization on the planet while startups would be the most rigid and bureaucratic. Yet just the opposite occurs – constricted resources serve as a creative catalyst.

What would the notion of ‘removing strings’ look like for you? What forced limitations could you implement in order to unshackle your imagination?

If you normally have a week to tackle a certain type of challenge, how would your team perform if they only had a three-hour sprint? What would you do to keep new customers calling if your marketing budget was cut by 85%? If you had to deliver on your quarterly targets with only half your team size, how would you shift roles and responsibilities in order to achieve the objective?

The next time frustration sets in around a lack of fresh ideas, try removing – not adding – resources. By changing parameters, you’ll uncover new paths of discovery.

So, go ahead and jam with just three strings. A beautiful melody of success may soon follow.