Marissa Ann Mayer's Business Week article 'Creativity loves Constraints' talks of
"Creativity thriving best when constrained."
"But constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Too many curbs can lead to pessimism and despair. Disregarding the bounds of what we know or accept gives rise to ideas that are non-obvious, unconventional, or unexplored. The creativity realized in this balance between constraint and disregard for the impossible is fuelled by passion and leads to revolutionary change."
"Yet constraints alone can stifle and kill creativity. While we need them to spur passion and insight, we also need a sense of hopefulness to keep us engaged and unwavering in our search for the right idea. Innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.
Henry Ford once said: "If I'd listened to customers, I'd have given them a faster horse." True creativity makes the impossible possible. It can revolutionize a product, a business, the economy, and the world around us."
I was involved in a project where keeping all the team members in the room to have a conversation was almost impossible. They preferrred to arrive and present to the "boss" what they had achieved and then disappear, leaving the team leader with fragmentary glimpses of the project's status.
Need being the mother of innovation drove some of us to design a team tool called Design Space- intended to provide a team with an open framework and a systematic approach to address the challenges of creating innovative products. Design Pyramid helps us define a vision of an excellent product but where do we look for this product and how will we be confident we have properly explored opportunities and constraints?
We decided that the important opportunity factors that determined a product's success or failure were 4 opportunity areas and 4 matching constraints which I covered in a previous post (A Tool to help create winning products). The pairing are Design for Consumer, Manufacture, Sustainability and Competitiveness. Each pair generates a tension which can be harnessed creatively if there is an expert for each of the 8 factors in the room, sharing information and challenging each other's perspectives, leading to creative dialogue.
Some of the opportunities indeed evaporate under the heat of creative challenge but others are hothoused into workable concepts. Constraints are also creatively challenged and it is not unknown for some of them to be exposed as merely barriers erected by people who did not connect with the team's vision or who mistook operational efficiency on existing products as the only way to handle new ones. I remember on one project the supply chain representative never really engaged in the first few team events, just saying that 3rd party manufacture would solve the problems of the new-to-company technology ideas. The team decided that when the project was a runaway success the manufacture would need to come in-house very quickly. So the team agreedthat one constraint should be that technology adoption needed to be mediated by the type of expertise available in the global organisation, even if new to this business category. 6 Month's later the decision was made to go for launch based on manufacture in an existing facility! So the Design for Sustainability and Design for Manufacture factors turned out to be very important to the excellence of the product. Fortunately we had those covered off ... an example of the 'Wisdom of Crowds' realising that some constraints are real and others a assertions without much foundation. Some of theses can emerge when someone representing a factor is not present and the person representing the matched factor answers for them!
I will develop the methodology of Opportunities and Constraints in the next post.