I was at a live performance the other night where Jacq sang and played with Girish, and I had a great conversation with Reggie, the drummer for the night. (I am SO sorry that I don’t know your last name, Reggie.) We talked about the fact that his typical drum kit for events is usually like 30 or so pieces, but that he decided to go minimal for the event. He had a kick drum, a snare, a tom, two cymbals, and a cowbell.

What Reggie said was something like this, “I really enjoy this, because it means I really have to use what I have to get the expression I’m aiming for. I can’t just lean on all the gadgetry. I’m using my skills and coaxing that expression out of these few tools.” That’s my translation of what Reggie said. He actually said it better. This isn’t the real conversation. This is just a tribute. (If you just smirked a bit, thank you. If you have no idea what I just said, move along. It’s okay.)

Work Within Constraints

With many things we do in life, there’s this little continuum. We start with something smallish or nothing, we then adapt and develop newer or bigger or more (or some mix). You start with a point and shoot camera and then you need a digital SLR camera. And then you need this amazing $3000 lens. And then, somewhere, at some point, oddly, you decide to go 180 degrees in the other direction. You think, “I bet I could get amazing photos out of one of those crazy cardboard box kit cameras.”

Constraints are magic, if you learn to embrace them. Learning how to write within 500 words is powerful. Learning how to take just one great photo with a simple point and shoot camera is wonderful. Learning how to get music out of two sticks and a bucket is wonderful. You can do a lot by learning how to embrace a lesser set of tools. You can learn a lot by saying, “This is all I have to work with, and I’m going to do that.” Jason Fried wrote a great book about that, by the way. Rework.Read also A Lesser Photographer manifesto. (Thanks to Michael Schechter for sharing this with me.)

What Are Your Constraints?

Are you working within a very tight budget? Do you not have enough time? Are you a cruddy writer? Bad on video? What’s your set of constraints? For instance, in music, I’m constrained by my lack of knowledge and ability with my use of Logic Pro and Abelton Live. Knowing this, I sometimes come up with hackish ways of creating a sound I want, because I don’t know how all the cool kids do it.

Where are YOUR constraints? And let’s think about this: there are constraints you just have (like my lack of knowledge) and then there are constraints you can choose for yourself: I like to write sub-500 word posts.

And what will those DO for you?

That’s the conversation.

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