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As you might know, I recently finished writing a 57,800 word book manuscript. Forgive me if I’m mentioning it too often; I’m just really, really proud of this achievement. It’s not just writing the book- this, actually, is the fifth book I’ve written. It’s not just about writing it quickly- this is the third book I’ve written in under 30 days. What really makes me excited about this book five, in particular (and I’m still working on a title, so it’s just going to be known as book five for this blog post) is that book five represents the first time I’ve shared some ideas that I’ve been thinking about for years.

the-structure-of-creativityThere has been this creative uprush that has resulted from the expression of ideas that I’ve been thinking about for so long, but never expressed in a full length and complete way. Since finishing the book, I’ve generated several new articles, several new newsletter issues, and several more blog posts. It’s been very evident that the process of writing regularly has returned me to the habit of writing regularly.

In a coaching session I had today, I was speaking with a creative and bright entrepreneur, Alyssa*, who had a million ideas for what she wanted to do and how she might grow her business. As I led her stepwise through deciding on what she wanted to do, who she wanted to work with, and how she wanted to work with them, I found myself saying “All creativity needs structure to flourish.”

For those of you familiar with the creativity literature, this won’t surprise you. You’ll know, as I do, that the most creative ideas don’t come from a formless, shapeless mass of thoughts. They come from a focus on problem solving within defined parameters.

Many times, in business, we’re confused because we’re leaving the situation too wide open. Rather than thoughtfully and systematically closing down our options, we are trying to hold too many ideas all at once. The challenge with this, as you might have noticed, is that our brain becomes fatigued at considering so many possibilities without any resolution. While we each like to feel that we have many options, the research on choice and decision making shows that people take less action when they have more choices.

In a way, we become paralyzed by the possibilities.

I raise this now because I see that to be creative in our businesses and our projects demands that we have some structure of some kind. We must set some limits or guidelines or parameters within which to consider our options and so that we can be more likely of landing on a solution that serves our desired business outcomes.

There is no point in considering all the possibilities in general without tying them to your specific business outcomes. You can use this concept of “two limits” or “two parameters” to help you with all kinds of decision-making.

In a way, these “two parameters” act like a framework or a lattice upon which your good ideas can grow. I’m not much of a gardener, but I can see parallels between how a trellis helps a rosebush grow straight, and this process of giving your ideas some structure so they, too, can blossom fully.

If we take a mundane example, like, “What should I make for dinner?”- you might be stumped in trying to answer that question. But, instead, if you asked the same question with two parameters on it, like “What should I make for dinner that is easy and good for us?”- your mind will work within these constructs to come up with a solution more rapidly.

This “two parameter” process will help your brain line up to find a solution, and you’ll find yourself deciding on a good idea much sooner.

You can use this process to set business goals, too. One way I used it in my business recently was when I wondering about how to better package and position my business services. The two parameters I considered were “How do I offer the most value to clients at the best cost basis for me?” – my two parameters were value to the client and cost containment within my business. I had been thinking about my package offerings in an open-ended way for several weeks, with no decisions. Once I set my important criteria, I was able to easily make choices about what to include where.

I offer this process as a framework for helping you solve problems in your business. If you’re feeling confused by something in your business and can’t come up with a solid answer, try applying two parameters to the question. In business, you might consider parameters like time and energy, cost and benefit, investment and return.

Just realize that your brain has a marvelous capacity to come up with wonderful answers- if you give it a bit of structure for its creativity. Good ideas need something to cling to.