SD #48 | Beautiful Constraint: Doing What You Can With What You Have

#beautiful constraint #creativity #growth mindset #ingenuity Jun 26, 2023
Person writing on a cocktail napkin.
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Read Time: 5.0 minutes. 


Stories of ingenuity in the face of a constraint are all around us. When we come across them, we enjoy the small triumphs of the human spirit that they represent.
 Adam Morgan and Mark Barden | Authors of A Beautiful Constraint


What’s the Tip?

Do what you can with what you have. That's the tip.

And more often than not, this tip is all you need to make progress. There are a number of examples in this blogpost that will inspire you to view and use constraint as a battle cry of creativity, freedom, and purpose instead of a limitation that feels confining or less than.

How Do You Use It?

Here are 4 ways to use constraint to fuel ingenuity and create competitive advantage: 

Embrace the Challenge: Instead of viewing constraints as obstacles, embrace them as challenges that can stimulate your creativity. Recognize that limitations force you to think outside the box and find unconventional solutions. Embracing the challenge allows you to tap into your resourcefulness and discover new possibilities.

Foster a Growth Mindset: Cultivate a growth mindset that sees constraints as learning opportunities. Understand that limitations can lead to personal and professional growth by pushing you to develop new skills, adapt to changing circumstances, and expand your knowledge base. Embracing constraints with a growth mindset enables you to approach them with curiosity and a willingness to explore different paths.

Reframe the Problem: When faced with constraints, reframe the problem at hand. Instead of focusing on what cannot be done, shift your perspective and explore what is possible within the given limitations. Look for alternative approaches, creative workarounds, or different ways to achieve your objectives. Reframing the problem helps you uncover fresh insights and encourages innovative thinking.

Prioritize and Simplify: Constraints often require prioritization and simplification. Use the limitations as an opportunity to clarify your goals and identify the most essential elements. By eliminating non-essential components and focusing on what truly matters, you can streamline your efforts and achieve better outcomes. Constraints can help you prioritize effectively and avoid unnecessary complexity.


What's are Some Examples? 

Ok, so here's the fun part. Here are a few examples where constraint helped drive untold, unforeseen, and in some cases unimaginable opportunity. The first example has to do with cocktail napkins, a bartender, a Broadway theater, and a up and coming playwright. 

Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin of West Wing and A Few Good Men renown tells this story of a time when he was the bartender at the Palace Theater in New York City. Sorkin had taken a number of survival jobs as he called them, including dressing up as a Moose in Times Square, in order to feed his passion for writing. Bussing tables and bartending were also part of the survival mix. The upside for Sorkin of bartending at a Broadway theater was the slow period in between peak bartending times: just before the curtain opened and during intermission. The rest of the time Sorkin spent writing what would ultimately become A Few Good Men.

But there was no typewriter at the legal pad for notes. So, Sorkin made do with what he had...cocktail napkins. Yep, that's right: he wrote A Few Good Men on Palace Theater cocktail napkins. At the end of his shift, Sorkin pocketed his tips and his cocktail napkins scribbled with dialogue. When he got home, he'd empty his pockets, uncrumple his napkins, and begin typing up his notes.

Dr. Seuss

Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, flourished under constraint as well. In the late 1950s, there was a move to put more life and play into children's books, which for some had become dry, vapid, and unrealistic. One adopter of this move was William Spaulding, then head of Houghton Mifflin's education division. He challenged Geisel to write a story that first-graders couldn't put down. To ensure readability, Spauling added this additional constraint: the story could only draw from a list containing 225 specific words. Geisel was dismayed at the seeming nonsense of the task. But for fun, he told himself he'd come up with a title based on the first two words he found that rhymed: cat and hat. We all know how that ended up. Later, another publisher bet Geisel $50 that he couldn't write a book limited to a list of just 50 words. Geisel responded with Green Eggs and Ham.


What's the Benefit to You?

The benefit to you, whether you're making your way as a solopreneur or working for a company or organization, is to continually develop a growth mindset that challenges you to do what you can with what you have. This mindset helps yield innovation, creativity, and progress. It also helps prioritize your resources and money. That money could be capital for your business or budget for your team. Ultimately, constraint, used well, can be a powerful strategic advantage. Harvard Business School professor, Michael Porter, once said "strategy isn't what you's what you don't do." 

The source for this blogpost title and the story of Dr. Seuss is the book, A Beautiful Constraint, which we highly recommend.


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