Be Like Dr. Seuss — The Power of Constraints

Theodor Geisel. Courtesy of Dr. Seuss Enterprises

If you are an admirer of the children’s author Theodor Geisel, as I am, this story will interest you.

In 1960, Theodor Geisel made a $50 bet with Bennett Cerf, founder of the publishing company Random House, that he could write a successful children’s book using only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, which has sold more than 200 million copies.

Is there a lesson here? Certainly Geisel was a very talented writer. But according to James Clear, who wrote “The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest Work” that inspired this piece (, the photo came from that site), something was at work here that could benefit us all.

That something is the power of constraints. Limiting options can actually be an advantage, because it forces creativity. Or as Mr Clear writes, “If you’re five foot five inches tall and you’re playing basketball, you figure out more creative ways to score than the six foot five inch guy.”

A constraint can also force you to produce. You may have seen this cartoon by David Sipress which appeared in New Yorker magazine. But it’s true, constraints should not be considered an obstacle, even though most people hate them.

So try it yourself. Is there something you should be doing, but can’t find the time? See what you can do in an hour, a half hour, or even fifteen minutes, whether it’s writing or housecleaning. Constrain yourself, and let creativity and concentration take it from there.

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