Leveraging Your Limitations

Published by Thriving Erin on

A Discussion of “A Beautiful Constraint” by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden


constraint /kƏn’streint/ noun a limitation, imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves, that materially affects our ability to do something


We’ve all had amazing ideas or plans that never materialize. We all have moments of inspiration that cause us to dream about a different future. These could be ideas for a new product or service at work, they could be an idea to travel around the world, it could be the desire to move to a larger house or find more time to spend with your kids. The reason these things never happen is because of constraints. Your boss says no to the product at work because it’s going to be too expensive, you can’t travel the world because you don’t have enough time off this year, and you never don’t move to that bigger house because you’re worried about moving your kids to a new school.


Leverage Your Constraints  / /  Constraints are a reality, we each only have so much money and time, and we only have the skills and knowledge that we have at any given time, we can’t pretend we have more. Though these things can be increased, they will always constrain you to some extent. The goal is not to eliminate constraints, but to learn to identify them and leverage them, to see them as an opportunity to create something new rather than as a restriction. In fact, a completely unconstrained project is often the hardest because it is so hard to tell what the goal is, what are you actually trying to solve. Constraints help define a project and by using them as motivation we can – as the authors say, make them beautiful.


Nike  / / For example, in the mid 1990’s Nike came under fire for not enforcing safe work conditions in overseas factories. With constraints of distance, language, and cultural differences, they were finding it almost impossible to police the use of protective facemarks to prevent the inhalation of glue fumes. As boycotts increased and profits declined, Nike stopped fighting the constraints. They didn’t try come up with stricter ways to increase usage of protective gear. Instead, they used the situation as motivation to invent a new, nontoxic glue that didn’t require any protective equipment. The crazy part is that the new glue actually performed better and resulted in a much better shoe. They truly turned those constraints into something beautiful for their company.


This example is obviously larger than the scope of most of our everyday lives, but this is such a great example of making constraints beautiful, by using them as motivation to create something new.


We Can If  / /  When we (or others) say something is impossible, what we’re really saying is that, “it’s impossible within the current paths on which we depend.” Rather than saying, “we can’t because. . .” we need to start saying, “we can if. . .” This shifts our focus and prevents us from being able to identify obstacles without looking for a solution at the same time. The reality is that the most significant constraints may actually be internal ones. The ones that determine how flexible and open-minded we are in our approach to problem-solving and addressing constraints.

Talent, skill, and experience alone can’t determine success in dealing with constraints. A clear purpose and strong emotional desire to solve the problem are key. This emotional connection allows us to be more optimistic and positive, which in turn, translates into increased resilience and openness. It allows us to find the value in what we have, seeing the sources of abundance around us, and pushing past the obvious to come up with creative new ways to leverage them.


Being persistent does not mean bashing our heads against the wall over and over, trying to same thing while expecting different results. It’s about a stubborn adaptiveness, the persistence in continually stepping back from the wall and finding a new way forward.


Your Turn  / /  What constraints are you facing in your life that you’ve identified by saying, “I can’t because . . .”?

How different would they look if you said, “I can if . . .”?


Try it, write down one constraint in your life and then spend some time thinking of how you could get around that constraint if you considered options outside your current framework.


Even if you don’t choose to act on that different option, the exercise of assessing it differently can cause you to see all the new opportunity around you.


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