Constraints Create Clarity
Constraints are not meant to be limiting. They are assets to help us solve problems in a new way. Constraints create clarity and foster creativity. They force you to think differently and act with intention.
Innovation happens when constraints are repositioned as assets. Deadlines are a constraint. Limited budgets are a constraint. Access to resources is a constraint. Tweeting in 140 characters or less is a constraint. All of these have the potential to limit our actions, but at the same time, they also have the ability to drive us to approach situations from a new vantage point. What appears to be a constraint might actually be the breakthrough you have been searching for.
A great example is the "hackathon" phenomenon that has taken over technology companies in recent years. These are events built around constraints. With limited resources and strict time limits, coders, designers, and entrepreneurs use their creativity to build new products, services, and lay the foundations for future breakthrough ideas. Organizations realize this format is a great way to spark creativity and motivate people to dream towards action. What makes a hackathon special is the tension of clarity and ambiguity. It is in this tension that innovation thrives.
From these hackathons, Facebook has created things you use everyday such as the "Like" button, Timeline, and Video. They found a way to modify the environment and uncover gems of ideas within their team that may not have emerged any other way. Many other companies utilize some form of this to dream up new businesses or create a new product.
These types of innovations through constraints are not limited to the tech industry. Innovators across history have found ways to use constraints to drive progress. Constraints are leading the way in changing lives of many people around the globe.
Water4 found a way to give over a million people in remote parts of the world clean water. Oh, and they've done it without heavy machinery. The entire process is done by hand and creates sustainable new businesses in developing countries where high levels of unemployment are common. Additionally, you can carry all of the tools you need to drill the wells on an airplane with you. If you aren't familiar with the work they are doing, you need to be.
Embrace created a way for millions of premature babies to experience life. In the developing world, children routinely die due to preventable challenges. The team at Embrace found a way to create a product that addressed those challenges in a new way without the use of expensive machines that are difficult to maintain. They used the limitations of the developing world to foster their creativity and approach a problem from a new angle.
Do you know the constraints of your organization? How are you using them to your advantage to make something remarkable? Don't let a constraint be an excuse. Do something to make an impact. That's what leaders do.