These days the popular mantras for stimulating creativity frequently extol the virtues of thinking outside the box: "There are no wrong answers." "Consider all options." "Break the boundaries that prevent you from innovating." But not all boundaries should be broken. Some are real and need to be respected. Sometimes it is best to know how to think creatively inside the box.
If you identify constraints that any solution to a specific problem must obey, you can channel your search into more productive directions. Eventually you must always figure out which of your possible solutions are workable and which are not. By imposing constraints on your solution search--in effect, understanding what box they will ultimately have to fit into--you can filter out unworkable ideas before they take shape and see the real solutions more easily.
This article was originally published with the title Principled Problem Solving.