A personal background story
When I was in what we call secondary school here in Switzerland, basically when you are around 12-16 years old, I had a great art teacher. Until this class drawing classes where very technical. You had to draw a tree like it was. Draw a building like it was. And I sucked at it.
But this teacher wanted to bring us in another mindset: abstract art. For teens who learned to follow the rules of drawing during years, that sounded like a daunting and very stupid task. The teacher gave to all of us a blank sheet of paper. At that moment I felt what I call the blank sheet syndrome. You know that pressure that you feel at the beginning of a project: everything is possible, but at the same time you are blocked to start. Too much pressure. What if the first line I draw messes everything up? It could be perfect I don't want to start with a mistake.
Pressure was building up. At that moment, the teacher had finished to hand the white sheets of papers to us and said: now I want you to take your pencil and put your sheet of paper in front of you. Ready? Okay, now close your eyes. And scribble randomly on your sheet of paper. Go! Now!
I scribbled random shapes without lifting my pencil as the teacher asked. It felt stupid but refreshing.
Stop! Now open your eyes.
We all laughed and smiled. This was some ugly shit we created.
Now this is the basis of your artwork and you'll work with it during the next 4 classes. Good luck.
The impact of contraints
What happened here? With a blank sheet of paper I could never have created a first piece of abstract art. That would have been to difficult. So the teacher created a set of constraints that forced me to start without overthinking. And from there I was able to create my first piece of abstract art, which then brought me to be interested in graphic design, then design in general, and today in my job as an innovation coach.
What are good constraints for ideation?
The simples constraint when it comes to idea generation is time. Give yourself a number of ideas to generate and a time limit to arrive to that number. For example: I want to come up with 5 ideas in the next 15 minutes. So you'll have 3 minutes to find one idea. Pretty easy right.
Another very simple constraint is to give a creative prompt or topic. For example, solve this problem as if you were working for IKEA.
A lot of idea generation techniques are basically a set of constraints that help you to get started. And more than often, when you start to mix constraints you get some really fun and productive ideation sessions.