November 1

Bounded Autonomy

Orson Welles, the great filmmaker, once quipped, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Without some form of limitation, it’s difficult to make priority decisions about focus, energy, and time.

As creative pros, what we should strive for is bounded autonomy. This is freedom within limits. Effective limits help us make critical deci- sions about our finite resources. Sometimes, the reason we are stuck is that we either have too much autonomy (not enough boundaries) or we are too bounded (too many limits), and the net result is that we can’t see a meaningful path forward. By considering these two factors, we can sometimes find just the right solution to our stuck-ness. Do you need better limits to define where you look for ideas? Better definition of the problem? Or are you overly constricted by tight boundaries and need more freedom to explore?

Complete freedom is not helpful. The creative process thrives within the context of bounded autonomy.


Think about a problem you’re stuck on. Do you need more autonomy or better boundaries?

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