Updated: Dec 13, 2020
There is a misconception that in order for an idea to be creative, it needs to be one that has never been dreamt up before. The idea should be completely new and novel and be unknown to mankind. Unfortunately, not only is this notion incorrect but it also can block the flow of creativity.
The Closed World principle teaches that in order to discover creative ideas one should look inward rather than outward. Instead of googling “random new idea” one mustn’t look farther than the kitchen table. By searching close in rather than farther away, one will be pleasantly surprised to find that the creative solution really was at your fingertips all along.
To be creative, a solution must have 3 components – it must be original, useful and simple. Anyone can dream of a man flying through space in a flying car, and although that idea would be quite useful, it is not too original and definitely not simple. Having a string of magnets hanging from your floor to your ceiling might be simple to make and even original, but it is far from useful. Having all 3 components together is what will help you find the sweet spot of creativity.
How do we find creative ideas? Where do we look to find these useful, original and simple solutions?
The Closed World is an imaginary boundary that one sets in order to define how far out one will search for a solution. If she wants to innovate on an entire project (the company’s line of refrigerators), she will take a more global look and define the Closed World more broadly to include not only the product itself but the surrounding details as well (the refrigerator’s components, the kitchen it is housed in or the user’s preferences) but if she wants to innovate on a specific detail (the refrigerator door), she will narrow the closed world down to only a few specific details (the characteristics of the door, the uses of the door as well as its features). By changing the scope of the Closed World one can get a different perspective and find new opportunity at every turn.
What the Closed World accomplishes is that is defines the parameters of thought. It forces you to constrain your brain and think locally. It allows you to see the solutions that are right in front of your face, without having to travel across the world and spend millions of dollars. The limits of the closed world send you on the road to discovery instead of the path to nowhere. Although it is counterintuitive, its success speaks for itself. Take a minute to think of some of your last ah-hah moments. I’ll bet for most of them you thought – why didn’t I think of that? Creative solutions can be found everywhere, but most of the time, they are right there waiting to be discovered.