Building Success with Creative Adaptation

Creative AdaptationImagine you just acquired a dilapidated old house on 5 acres of prime property.

Let’s say that it was an inheritance from an unknown rich relative.

She heard what a wonderful person you are through the family grapevine, and wanted to leave you something.

The house itself is in poor condition, but the structure and plumbing are in pretty good shape. As part of the inheritance, she also left you with $500,000 to fix up the place. The restrictions are that you:

  • Must work off the existing structure (no leveling the place and starting from scratch)
  • Should try to stay as close to the original footprint as possible
  • Can’t sell the house and/or land
  • Can only use the money for the renovations and restoration.

What would you do?

Take a few minutes, and let your mind construct a dream house within the constraints provided. To make it more of a challenge, imagine that the original structure is of a style that is the complete opposite of your own tastes.

Welcome to Creative Adaptation Mode

As your mind begins to construct a beautiful dream house within the limits given, it kicks in to what I call Creative Adaptation Mode. It’s something we all have, and is a great way to prove that we are all creative — regardless of what you might think.

As a student of the creative process, and a former creativity coach, I found this to be the most intriguing form of creativity. It’s the “creating something from something else” form of creativity, as opposed to the “creating something from nothing” form. (I should note that there is some debate as to whether the second form even exists, since almost everything is created based on something else, even if it’s only loosely based).

Creative Adaptation Mode provides two valuable elements of creativity:

  • Inspiration
  • Constraints

In this series I’ll look at how these work together, and how creative adaptation is used in a variety of ways. It’s one of the key tools in the entrepreneur’s toolbox, and can help you make your own ventures more diverse and successful.

In part two we’ll begin by taking a look at the inspiration that creative adaptation provides.

Creative Adaptation Series


  1. I’m looking forward to your take on this Tony! One of my favorite business creativity books is Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. It’s an excellent book, but it reads like a text book. I’m sure this series will give me a place to send my students for a quick study on this topic!

  2. ISB – Creativity is a powerful tool we all have, but often forget to use. It’s like finding a brand-new reciprocating saw in the garage you didn’t even know you had 😉

    Jean – Although your comment was looking at the “real” aspect of owning the house, it does bring up a good point related to the creative adaptation exercise of the metaphorical house. I’ve know many creative people who try to avoid the creative adaptation mode, instead struggling to make something “new.” It becomes a painful experience for a lot of them. I hope to dispel some misconceptions and highlight the advantages in this series.

    Jim – I agree Thinkertoys is a great book. Along those same lines, I also have been a big fan of Roger von Oech’s work for years.

  3. Inspiration plus constraints. Sounds like a game. Which is basically what this kind creativity is.
    You got basic rules on how to play the game (constraints) and the fun of playing (inspiration).
    Incidently, putting unneccessary constraints on any activity (cleaning, gardening, love-making) changes it into a creative game.

    I’m on the side of “creating from nothing is an impossibility”.

  4. Thanks, Tony. I enjoy your blog! Around my workplace, we’re usually trying to adapt creatively with no money. It can be frustrating, but sometimes we have good, cheap ideas.

  5. This is a classic example of what those of us in small business encounter almost everyday – the need to be creative and acknowledge our constraints. Constraints are not just about time, money, rules & regulations but also boundaries we need (read: must) to set for ourselves and our businesses. After running an exremely busy practice for 10 years, I now choose to work from “the nest”. I have less cashflow and I need to dedicate more time to my kids BUT I am loving it. My ability to come up with new ways of handling things and promoting my work has become a real buzz. The whole game has changed and I find the constraints over which I have little influence, actually become the framework upon which my creativity can build. This means stress levels are reduced and the old noggin gets a workout devising new strategies and developing new strengths. Thanks for the insight Tony.

  6. You know, I always found that in school, I did best on the assignments that had some constraints to them. It was always more challenging to just go, without any parameters. So maybe that’s one secret to creativity – imposing unique constraints on your own process to help you stretch your thinking beyond the typical.

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