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Organizational Change Management

Unleashing Creativity through Constraints

Photo of kids with thinking hats on, unleashing creativity.

When you hear the word “constraints,” what creative images and stories does your mind conjure up?

The word often leads people toward negative thoughts of confinement, limitations, obstacles, or not getting what you want. With this article, though, I want to talk about useful constraints and how they can encourage creativity and innovation.

Common Views of Constraints

You’ve no doubt been there…sitting in a room with colleagues discussing a problem you don’t know exactly how to fix. Teammates are tossing around ideas and landing on plenty of “we should” solutions but each concept gets popped with an abrupt yank back to reality. They point to common constraints such as:

  • We don’t have the time to do it right.
  • The budget won’t allow this to be great.
  • Our resources aren’t a perfect fit. (equipment, technology, skills, expertise)
  • We lack the organizational buy-in.
  • There are legal and regulatory concerns.

Some teams let these constraints stop their progress and they settle on a mediocre solution. Others view them as challenges to be met.

When Creativity and Innovation Thrive

Have you ever heard someone glowingly refer to a past project with the phrase, “I had full creative freedom!” The choice of words alone just makes you envious! Some may enjoy this state, but the majority of others end up in decision paralysis, the blank canvas syndrome, also known as the paradox of choice. The shear unlimited options may stop you in your tracks.

Likewise, some may thrive in working alone, while others need to collaborate. Yet, it is widely discussed that large teams can become inefficient and bogged down by process. There seems to be a time and a place for different sized teams.

No matter the situation, constraints will be present. Whether you are working alone or within a team, you don’t want your creativity to get blocked by your mindset toward your perceived or real constraints. In fact, with the proper mindset, you can turn your constraints into benefits. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Photo of kids making funny faces, hoping their thinking caps will helps find usefulness within constraints.

The Usefulness of Constraints

So how can these pesky constraints be turned into something useful? Let me provide some examples.

I recently discussed the intentional constraints within poetry in my Harmful Innovation Myths post. Poetry is considered one of the most creative of all the literary arts, and its beauty comes directly from the structed constraints the poet works within.

My blog post on when you’re not the creative type discusses how time constraints, as limiting as five-minute brainstorming, can help as a catalyst toward innovative ideas.

Let’s specifically look at the constraints mentioned earlier:

  • Time: When you are limited on hours or calendar days, there will be some solutions that cannot be completed in time. Instead of feeling stuck, push for ideas that lie outside the norm. Even reaching out to someone who knows very little about the topic who can ask the simple questions of “why” or “why not” can allow you to see the obvious when you were stuck on the technical. Remember that “done is better than perfect.”
  • Budget: Many teams kick the dirt knowing that the solution they want would never get budget approval. If you allow your mind to fall into the trap of “you get what you pay for”, your brain won’t reach for the unexpected possibilities. How many times have you come across something that seemed “so simple” and you thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
  • Resources: Maybe you’re lacking an expert, or you don’t have the industry-approved tool. This may be very limiting, however, don’t underestimate the potential for success despite this fact. Consider the quote from Japanese Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.” In this situation, aim to fail fast and iterate quickly.
  • The Organization: Organizational constraints can vary. You may not have buy-in from decision makers. There may be other projects prioritized sooner. The idea may threaten existing business norms. Sometimes change can feel as slow as turning the Titanic. I’ve found that planting seeds of ideas and continuing to beat the drum can eventually get the progress you seek. Moreover, it may have positioned a great idea to be better received at a different point in time. A North Star Goal can be helpful.
  • Legal & Regulatory: It is ill advised to ignore legal and regulatory constraints. The good news is that you aren’t the only one who faces them…your competitors will too. For those determined, laws can be changed. But while you were working on that, your competitors more likely moved on for easier wins. You can use your dedication to overcome regulatory obstacles and thus gain competitive advantage.


Doing anything worthwhile will provide you with opposition and constraints. Don’t let them sidetrack you. Instead try to find ways in which to use them to your advantage.

If you’re facing constraints and need help breaking through the barriers, reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.

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Brandon Luhring

Brandon is a consumer experience engagement manager at Perficient. His career has included running digital and marketing projects both in-house and as a consultant. He enjoys topics around creativity, innovation, design, technology, and leadership.

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