Constraint breeds creativity: A brainstorming method to jumpstart out-of-the-box thinking for sustainability science

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Rachelle K. Gould
  • Tomomi Saito
  • Karen E. Allen
  • Aletta Bonn
  • Mollie Chapman
  • Laÿna Droz
  • Thora M. Herrmann
  • Austin Himes
  • Hiroe Ishihara
  • Marcondes G. Coelho-Junior
  • Fukamachi Katsue
  • Jasper O. Kenter
  • Barbara Muraca
  • Stefan Ortiz-Przychodzka
  • Jasmine Pearson
  • Marc Tadaki
  • Betty J. Rono
  • Norie Tamura

Conservation science often addresses highly complex issues; creative approaches can help develop new ways of doing so. We describe constraint-based brainstorming, a 10-minute creativity-inducing exercise inspired by design thinking. Although we applied the method with the goal of developing creative environmental valuation methods, it is applicable to almost any complex, interdisciplinary environmental research problem. We tried the approach at two academic workshops, in Japan and in Germany. We generated, in each short activity, scores of unique ideas for the target question. We present this engaging activity as a way to simultaneously achieve multiple outcomes that can support innovative conservation science: quickly generate many seeds of ideas to address a challenge or goal, offer insight into nuances of and shared convictions related to the topic at hand, set a tone of creativity and breaking outside of established thought structures, and build community around a willingness to take risks and freely share ideas.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)703-710
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of iDiv (the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research); the grant awardees were Austin Himes, and Barbara Muraca, and authors RKG, TS, KA, AB, MC, TH, AH, JOK, BM, SOP, MCJ, JP, and MT were participants in the workshop funded by this grant. This work was also supported by the Graduate School of Frontier Science at the University of Tokyo. Hiroe Isihara organized the workshop supported by the University of Tokyo, and authors RG, TS, HI, FK, and NT were participants in this workshop.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.