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How (some) limitations can be helpful

How (some) limitations can be helpful

By Clixo Team

August 2020

In this first part of a three-part series, Clixo’s founder Assaf shares some reflections on creativity and constraints during the time of COVID-19.

Nearly six months into COVID-19, it’s safe to say many of us are a little stir crazy. ????

Seemingly overnight our worlds shrunk from, well, the world, to small, contained spaces, sometimes no bigger than single room apartments. The pain of this transition is particularly acute for parents, who have needed to suddenly fill in the gaps left by dozens of external structures that normally contribute to their childrens’ development, creativity, engagement, and sense of self. Summer camp? Cancelled. Play dates? Dubious. School? Remains to be seen. The disappearance of these integral parts of day to day life is more than just an issue of filling time. These activities are part of what help children grow, learn, and understand themselves, others, and the world. As parents, how can we possibly make up for all these critical aspects of development? Amidst all the unprecedented challenges and tragedy, are there any silver linings?

When I think about COVID-19, I think about the extremity of constraint it places on our lives. Things we have taken for granted forever–whether it’s taking the subway, offering your arm to an elderly person crossing the street, or having friends over for dinner–are suddenly dangerous at best, and quite often socially irresponsible. The interesting thing about freedom is that we notice it most acutely in its absence. As if made of gas, we tend to expand out to fill as much space as freedom allows us without a second thought. It is only when it is taken away that we notice the edges. 

But constraints aren’t entirely a bad thing. From a design perspective, constraints can actually be a critical part of encouraging freedom. Yes, that’s right–boundaries around freedom can actually strengthen freedom.”

Think about the following examples – Your boss walks into your office (this is back when offices existed) and tells you that the company needs to come up with a creative idea. You ask a few follow up questions, trying to figure out the perimeters. Your boss shrugs and tells you to just come up with something. What do you do with all that freedom? Is it liberating, or actually oppressive?

Another example. Your teacher asks you to write an essay on anything. Or you’re given a blank page and some crayons and told to draw whatever you like. Certainly, I think the vast majority of us would say there’s more pleasure to be found within total freedom than total control, but the ideal actually lays somewhere in between. 

In the toy world, I have long been fascinated with discovering what the exact ‘right’ amount of constraint is. From a psychological perspective, humans tend to be most creative when we are given some kind of perimeters to work within, the right tools to explore that space, and then the freedom to be and do in that space as we will. Even seemingly totally unstructured things, like playing in a sandbox, actually have very specific constraints built in, when you think about it. First off, there’s a literal box around the sand. Then there are the tools (the shovels, buckets, etc.) that children have to play with. Finally there is the material consistency of sand: some things are made easily with sand, some things can’t be made.

Now, am I saying the constraints COVID-19 has placed on us are a good thing that we should just be grateful for? Absolutely not. But it is also possible to take up creative possibilities in this time of constraint. A quick scroll through social media these days can reveal all sorts of fresh, innovative ideas parents have come up with for their kids during this time–ideas that never would have grown without the constraining factors that led to their genesis. 

With Clixo, the idea of constraint being wedded to creativity is built into the design. It took us over a thousand iterations to come up with a toy that provides just enough structure to alleviate the fears around starting, but which helps kids immediately establish a sense of infinite creative potential and autonomy once they start clicking.” 

Can you think of a constraint that initially irritated you, but ended up leading to a creative breakthrough? How can we work with constraints, rather than have them work against us? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

[Part 2 of this series is here and part 3 is over here]

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Overcoming Creative Blocks

Overcoming Creative Blocks

By Clixo Team

April 2020

The importance of creativity in a world of consumption. 

One of my favorite things to do with a fresh set of design students is give them an assignment that’s impossible to google. For example, I’ll tell the group to come up with ten ways to move a cloud from New York to Paris. 

This request is usually followed by crickets, and then a tentative request for clarification. 

“Anything,” I’ll tell them. “Come up with any and all creative solutions to the problem. Nothing is too ambitious or too silly.”

What I love about this assignment is that there is nowhere external for students to turn. They can’t look up an answer. There aren’t even comparable examples they could study. They have to turn inwards. They have to get creative.

This is often an uncomfortable process for my students. They’ve been raised in a culture that rewards those who consume and memorize vast quantities of data or information, but has less respect for the non-linear messiness of creativity. Most leave the classroom in a state of anxiety, afraid that whatever they come up with won’t be good enough.

It makes sense to be afraid of the creative process. It’s a vulnerable activity, with no rubric to follow and no guaranteed route for success. Most importantly, whatever we put out into the world represents our inner lives–that essence that makes us the unique, particular people that we are. That’s a hard thing to lay in the open for others to judge. 

But when my students return the next week with all sorts of wild ideas–birds pulling the clouds, ships with enormous fans–an important boundary has been broken down. They have moved beyond the realm of checking boxes and perfectly executing already-formulated ideas. They are now in the space of play. 

Play liberates precisely because we can’t control it. The thing that’s so scary about letting ourselves enter the world of creativity is also the most powerful aspect of it. We are free to be and do anything. That’s why the most revolutionary ideas and innovations come from this space, but it’s also why we get so fearful of entering it. What if we do or become something we are ashamed of? What if we don’t create anything at all?

As my students share their concepts, a magical thing happens. Laughter and playfulness enters the classroom. Outrageous ideas that a student was initially embarrassed to present are congratulated and built upon. The group grows increasingly excited, the more they come to trust that by openly sharing their ideas–their inner, creative force–they’re doing the most important work of all.

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The Sweet Spot for Creativity

The Sweet Spot for Creativity

By Clixo Team

June 2017

What’s the right amount of constraint?

Have you ever thought about the process of building a puzzle, or putting together a model? You get a bunch of pieces, and the goal is to figure out how to put them back together again. How quickly you achieve this can vary, but there’s only one of two possible outcomes: either you succeed, by making the one intended final product, or you give up. While this process can be challenging and even fun, we at Clixo don’t believe it’s the best method for breeding creativity or innovation.

So is the solution to eliminate constraints entirely? Well, not so fast. 

The truth is that research shows too much freedom is also a creativity killer. Faced with a blank page or a set of non-descript, homogenous objects and told to “do anything,” the chances of sparking inspiration are also low.

It turns out that the sweet spot for creativity lies between these poles. Too much constraint, and we are uninspired. Too little, and we don’t know where to start.

The question becomes: what is the ideal amount of constraint?

This question is one of the fundamental principles integrated into the design of Clixo. Like the art of origami, Clixo is infinitely changeable, but sets of principles guide the way. Designed with a shape and a method of attaching to itself that never runs out of alternatives, Clixo also provides enough structure so that no child is lost at the start. As you discover certain shapes, or sets of shapes, you begin to build a vocabulary of principles that can then be built upon and adapted in new ways.

For example, a child can quickly discover how to make a snake out of Clixo. Once they have that construction internalized, they will then see that possibility when they are trying to make a neck for a giraffe, or legs for a robot. The possibilities are endless, but they are built out of manageable steps.

As parents and adults (but also kids-at-heart), we would do well during these unprecedented times to reflect on how constraints often serve a purpose, or can have a silver lining. As COVID-19 has relegated many of us and our families into our homes, limiting us from playgrounds, playdates, and school, we have been forced to get creative in how we keep our kids engaged. Scrolling through Instagram accounts like Goodnews Movement, one sees slides built out of cardboard boxes, improvised backyard rollercoasters, and whole-family musical productions with lyrics adapted to reflect COVID-19. None of this is to undermine the enormous difficulty and tragedy COVID-19 is, but to offer a gentle reminder that sometimes limits can make us see, engage with, and reimagine things in new ways.

Often, we don’t get to choose what limits us. We take what exists for granted, and utilize it to the best of our ability. What is so wonderful about play, and what children teach us again and again, is how constraints aren’t an end point—they’re a beginning. We can’t play away the laws of gravity or physics, or the materiality or objects, but we can break down our calcified relationship to those boundaries.

Don’t bump up against a constraint and turn back. Hit a constraint and jump off.

With love from the Clixo family,


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