Here’s your mission. Increase sales by 4x of spirits used in warm drinks using our new campaign ‘Cozy Up’. You have a $500 budget per store. ‘WHAT? How?! I could only print one or two signs for $500. That’s an incredibly restrictive constraint.’


LCBO'S Cozy Up campaign utilized bundles of curb side recycling as street level billboards

LCBO’S Cozy Up campaign utilized bundles of curb side recycling as street level billboards

In their book A Beautiful Constraint, Adam Morgan and Mark Barden explore the essential role constraints play in creativity. In a world of seemingly ever increasing limitations that are driven as much by an over abundance of choices as by scarcity of time and resources the authors do a fantastic job of demonstrating how the more restrictive the constraint the more innovative we become.

In January 2016 my Director of Marketing challenged his team to create from scratch, in eight weeks, an online course for admission teams working in higher education. No one on his team had worked in higher education or ever created an online course before.

In March 2009 after three months in a row of sales going backwards by 40% my executive team and I were charged with still hitting our original EBITDA percentage by December of that year.

Linh Huynh, a Calgary school teacher knows a few things about applying constraints. She ran four desert marathons (one of them at the South Pole, while another was a 250km ultra marathon in the Gobi Desert). She asked herself the question, “how do I compete in these very expensive events without spending all my savings?” *

In 2004 my product development team needed to double the number of skus in our line with no additional design resources.

Everyday we are hit with constraints and we have the choice of reacting to them as a victim, a neutralizer or a proactive transformer. By making a constraint beautiful we see it as an opportunity, not a restriction. The constraint becomes a stimulus to see a better way of achieving something or solving a big problem.

The authors make many insightful points throughout the book, but one of the more  important suggestions is to break path dependence. Path dependence is essentially looking to how it was done in the past, using language from the past or relying on tools that have solved problems in the past. If we let them, the decisions we made yesterday will determine the scope of what is possible tomorrow.

The big issue with path dependence is the constraint is likely new and modern, while your path dependence locks you in to assumptions that are no longer appropriate. This makes us blind to new kinds of information and resources that may not support a new path. These lock-ins are personal (cognitive), cultural (collective/group think) and procedural (process).

Don’t be afraid to put tight constraints into your planning. How do we double sales this year without adding any new sales people? How do we give people more time off without impacting through-put? How can we expand to Australia without having to travel there?

Have remarkable focus, be incredibly inquisitive and apply optimism. The resulting use of constraints will deliver creative problem solving and competitive advantages.


* Linh’s story is inspiring and worth spending 15 minutes with.