Successful Creatives Use Constraints: Are You A Problem-Finder Or A Problem-Solver?

Successful Creatives Use Constraints: Are You A Problem-Finder Or A Problem-Solver?

When the Walt Disney Concert Hall finished in 2003, it had a tremendous influence on reshaping Los Angeles’s culture.

It’s captured the eyes and ears of people ever since.

Esa-Pekka Salonen performed the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s opening concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sharing…

“I love the new hall, truly love it […] It’s not only that ticket sales have skyrocketed, it’s the fact that people in Los Angeles, and outside Los Angeles as well, can take on a whole new awareness of what music can add to the quality of life.”

Though there were some critics, a 2006 US News & World report would explain the effects of this building:

Disney Hall, with its soaring, steel surfaces and breathtaking mix of beauty, grace, and optimism, is downtown L.A.’s “it” building. Completed in 2003, it is the envy of orchestras around the world and has given L.A. the kind of cultural credibility that had eluded it for years. It has also become the focal point of a nearly $2 billion downtown renaissance.

What’s even more impressive is the creative process that allowed such a fantastic building to emerge.

Architect Frank Gehry and his team were the masterminds behind this.

Gehry is a big fan of experimentation and prototyping.

They created 82 prototype models before developing Disney Hall’s final design.

So how did they go through this process of experimentation?

Are You A Problem-Solver Or A Problem-Finder?

“Creative people use constraints to limit their focus and isolate a set of problems that need to be solved.” — Peter Sims

The creative process can seem mysterious and confusing.

Though it appears chaotic, there are underlying principles for navigating it.

One of these principles is to use constraints to isolate problems that need to be solved.

Gehry calls these guard rails. His constraints would be everything related to the nature of the architectural project: budget, timeframe, materials, political and regulatory rules, etc.

These guidelines would help guide Gehry and his team to build prototypes. And upon making them, they’d identify problems that needed to be solved and iterated.

By the 82nd prototype, they had creatively found the best design for the Disney Hall by navigating and solving a set of problems.

This echoes a study that social scientists Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi performed with artists in the 1960s. They found that artists who sought out problems were significantly more successful with their creative pursuits.

They concluded that individuals who are “problem-finders” are much more successful with their creative endeavors versus people who are “problem-solvers.”

Being a problem-finder has two benefits for content creation:

  1. It helps you identify problems and challenges that your audience is facing. This provides you a list of valuable content ideas that could eventually turn into products or services (depending on how urgent and important the problem is).
  2. It helps you identify problems and challenges within your own content creation process, ultimately helping you improve your content’s effectiveness and efficiency over time.

So when we’re developing an idea for content creation purposes, how do we isolate and identify these problems?

It starts by developing your capacity to be proactive.

Your Circle Of Concern and Influence

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” — Robin S. Sharma

In the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares a great model for improving our proactivity.

I’ve discovered that a key benefit to this model is that it provides guidelines and constraints to help isolate and identify problems.

This empowers you to solve problems and to move the creative process along in a productive way.

There are two fundamental components to this model…

  1. There are things outside of your control. These are things within your “circle of concern.”
  2. And there are things within your control. These are things within your “circle of influence.”

Where are you spending the majority of your time? This will determine your level of effectiveness. 

And in this case, effectiveness is your ability to move through the creative process and end up with valuable ideas and content:

  • An ineffective person focuses on their circle of concern.
  • An effective person focuses on their circle of influence.

Being proactive is essentially focusing on your circle of influence.

And an interesting phenomenon happens when you focus your attention on what you can influence.

It expands.

The more proactive you are at identifying problems and solving them, the more influence you acquire over time.

But when you focus on your circle of concern, your influence and personal power shrink.

Where you focus your attention will ultimately empower or disempower you.

Expanding Your Circle Of Influence: 3 Types Of Problems That Guide You Towards Empowerment

Covey explains how every problem you have will fall into 1 of 3 categories. And each of these problems will indicate how to best respond within your circle of influence…

  • Direct problems (problems involving our own behavior)
  • Indirect problems (problems involving other people’s behavior)
  • No control problems (situations we can do nothing about)

How does each problem affect how you act within your circle of influence?

1. Direct problems require your direct influence. Your personal habits and behaviors can influence this. Covey calls these “private victories.”

For instance, if you have a problem with not completing projects by a specific deadline, then the best way to solve this is by implementing personal habits and behaviors to resolve it.

2. Indirect problems require your indirect influence. This can be achieved by how you communicate and relate with others. Covey calls these “public victories.”

For instance, if you’re encountering drama with a team member, the best way to achieve the desired outcome is by improving the relationship and quality of communication with that person.

3. Problems you have no control over can be influenced by using emotional intelligence and shifting perspectives to learn from the experience.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl is a great role model for this one. He literally had no control over his physical environment. So he exercised his freedom to choose his emotional response and give meaning to his suffering.

Whenever you find a problem in your life, try to identify which category it falls into.

And once it’s identified, how can you best respond within your circle of influence?

Identifying Problems Within Your Content Creation Process

When you’re experimenting with your content and finding problems to solve, identifying the type of problem will help you choose the best response (ultimately giving you a more fulfilling result and better means of solving the problem).

This benefits you by helping you identify problems that your audience is dealing with. This is valuable information that you can use to create content, products, or services in the future.

It also benefits you by helping you improve your overall content creation system. Over time, this enables you to create better content, build your audience more effectively, and create an environment conducive for selling your offers.

Let’s use an example for each of these three problems.

1. Direct Problems With Your Content

Suppose you’re not developing as many content ideas as you’d like daily, which is a bottleneck for your overall content creation process.

You can see how this decreases your exposure to your ideal customers because you’re not sharing as much content. It’s also slowing down the speed of innovation for developing ideas. And ultimately, it’s blocking the flow of online traffic to your brand’s website or landing pages.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

This would be a direct problem since it involves your direct behavior and personal habits to solve. Perhaps the solution is adjusting your schedule a bit, prioritizing a creative work session, and developing a habit where you’re proactively creating content ideas.

2. Indirect Problems With Your Content

Suppose you want your audience to engage more and find value in your content.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

At first, you might view this as a direct problem. Perhaps you’ll keep working on the content behind-closed-doors until it’s “perfect.”

But this is more likely an indirect problem since it involves other people’s behavior and perceptions. Once you’ve identified this as an indirect problem, you could perhaps jump on a call with someone representing your target audience to get their honest feedback on the idea. Or you could do a low-risk experiment by asking a question on social media about that idea.

3. No Control Problems With Your Content

Suppose you’re looking at the content you’ve published over the last week. The engagement rates are a lot lower than you’d like, and it’s disappointing.

At this point, the problem is outside of your control. The event has already occurred, and there’s not much you can do to influence the desired outcome.

Now, I’d classify this situation as a “no control” problem. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re powerless.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

Here you can approach the problem with emotional intelligence and perceptual awareness.

Rather than take it personally, you understand that it’s the reality of publishing content and building a brand. Plus, people are busy, and every brand is fighting for their attention.

Accepting this reality with emotional maturity opens up your ability to learn from the situation (perceptual awareness).

This feedback can ultimately help you learn how to improve engagement in the future.

Isolating and defining problems helps you acquire innovative solutions faster.

Find problems quickly, experiment, iterate, and refine till you develop great ideas and content.


“Little Bets” by Peter Sims

“7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey

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