Constraints Workshop

Use this exercise to encourage your team to break-free of routine ways of thinking.

Ross Haddow

Creativity loves constraints.

When planning business, service or product improvements, it is easy for complacency to set in. People can very easily start to follow ‘the path-of-least-resistance’ - going for the most intuitive idea that comes to mind rather than investing in the development of better ideas.

Use this exercise to encourage your team to break-free of routine ways of thinking. By putting significant constraints at the heart of the process, you will deny your team access to easy answers – forcing them to be more creative in the search for innovative and valuable ideas.

Step 1. Set Ambitious Goals

Brainstorm and set out goals that will get the team excited. Goals normally fit into one of the following categories:

- Ambitions of size
- Ambitions of quality
- Ambitions of impact
- Ambitions of superiority
- Ambitions of experience

Step 2: Give yourself significant constraints

Identify constraints that will create a significant challenge to overcome. Constraints normally fit into one of the following categories:

- Constraints of foundation (limited in something usually seen as a critical to success)
- Constraints of resources (limited in an important resource such as money or people )
- Constraints of time (limited in the time we have to do something)
- Constraints of method (limited to do something in a certain way)

Step 3: Frame your challenge

Try out combinations of your goals and constraints. Considering both sides is critical in this process. It creates a tension that will force your team to interrogate relationships between the key elements in a new way. Discuss combinations to test what feels exciting to the team. This exercise should take them out of their comfort zone and off well-worn paths of thinking. Work together to identity a challenge worthy of your team’s time. Make sure it matters to them and their customers.

How can we…

… double our income without increasing our headcount?
… deliver x service to our customers for less than y per transaction?

Step 4: Start problem solving

Now you get to work. The conversation should move to finding solutions to the challenge identified. ‘We can’t because’ – will be the natural answer to this question. This is path dependency in action. To break this, start the answer to challenge with ‘we can if..’. The list below provides a list of kickstarters to help generate ideas:

We can if …

- we resource it by...
- we substitute x for y
- we remove x to allow y
- we introduce...
- we fund it by...
- we think of it as...
- we use other people to...
- we mix together x with y
- we access the knowledge of …

One final note:
If you have picked a significant and worthwhile challenge, it is unlikely you will solve the problem in one question. It is more likely that by solving one problem, you will uncover further challenges to overcome. Using cascading ‘we can ifs’ creates a positive, forward momentum – and it is the combination of these that will lead to significant and unique break-throughs that have been hidden to others.