Rules and Creativity

Rosa Say, the author of Managing with Aloha, and owner of the blog Talking Story, has an entry at LifeHack, about how rules stifle creativity.

I like just about everything I've read of Rosa's output. This one on rules, however, made me pause and reflect upon a story I heard when I was in college.

It was a study of children playing in a schoolyard during recess. The aim of the study was to see what would happen if the playground fence was removed. Would the children experience more freedom and enjoy the openness of a fence-free playground?

When the fence was removed and the children sent out to play for recess, the researchers were surprised by the behavior of the children. Instead of fearlessly exploring the newly unbounded environment, the children huddled fearfully by the school door, afraid to play where there was no fence.

Without a fence, there was no protection. A wayward automobile could careen through. A gang of toughs could freely enter the yard. A stray dog could prowl and threaten the children.

Fences can be a good thing. They provide a boundary (or at least the perception of one) that keeps out chaos. Fences promote a feeling of safety. Safety permits us to relax, not worry, and enjoy ourselves.

Rules are like that too. Rules provide a boundary. Rules keep out chaos.

But do rules stifle creativity?

It depends, I think. Dumb rules can stifle creativity. I remember as a child being yelled at by a teacher for coloring outside the lines.

If the rules are designed to create psychological safety, relaxation, and a spirit of play and exploration, then there should be a positive effect on creativity.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 09/14/06


starbucker said…
Good Point - I distinctly remember when I was in grade school the comfort of our playground fence. I also certainly agree with you about Rosa! Hope all is well, and all the best.
Rosa Say said…
I quite agree Terrence, you've added nicely to the discussion, thank you!

And mahalo to both you and Starbucker for the very kind words about my writing, I am deeply appreciative.
Aloha e,
Astha said…
A pertinent issue for just about everyone- I like the story you've used.

The Evidence Based Management Blog has two research based entries on the same topic:
Terrence said…
Hey there, friends. Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment.

Paul said…
Do you know where that playground fence came from?
Paul said…
I am sorry, I meant do you know where the story about the playground fences came from?

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