Very few of us have the kind of resources that allow us to effortlessly accomplish any goal. Whether a quest or personal project, all the way to starting a new business, constraints stand in the way.
But are constraints always bad? Can they, in fact, be enabling and even desirable?
Consider the case of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, during the very early days. Kamprad couldn't afford the price of goose down for the affordable comforters that he wanted to sell. Instead he turned to Chinese chicken farmers.
The farmers typically plucked the chickens and burned the feathers. Kamprad persuaded the farmers to sell the feathers to him on the cheap. The farmers made additional money, and the constraint turned into a coup. A classic win-win.
This story is just one of many highlighted in the book A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business. As you may guess, the authors argue that constraints are not only surmountable, they can result in more innovative and abundant solutions than having the necessary resources in the first place.
The book outlines three steps that we all go though in the face of constraints:
- Victim: The initial reaction to lower your ambition when faced with a constraint.
- Neutralizer: The refusal to lower your ambition, and instead finding a different way to achieve the ambition instead.
- Transformer: Using a constraint as an opportunity, possibly even increasing your ambition along the way.
Keep in mind, these are not three types of people, they're three stages that people can go through. The only difference between those gifted with the “art of hustle” and everyone else is a mindset that more easily sees problems as opportunities. Which means you can develop that mindset.
Let me give an example from my own entrepreneurial journey. In 2001 I had the idea to create a virtual real estate brokerage out of a few content-rich websites. The model was powered by people searching online for homes, and we supplied buyer agents to represent them in the showings and negotiations — no brick-and-mortar presence needed.
Despite being a licensed attorney at the time, Texas still required all new licensees to be an agent for two years before becoming eligible to upgrade to broker. That typically means working for an existing brokerage, and that wasn't going to work for me. Given my qualifications, it was easy to feel unfairly victimized.
I neutralized the issue by partnering with a commercial broker who was the friend of a friend. I paid him a small passive percentage to be my sponsoring broker, and he let me do my thing. He was okay with this since my legal training and experience far surpassed what was required of even brokers.
From there, I transformed my initial model thanks to the insights I gleaned from that relationship. I ended up bringing in another commercial broker, and we moved beyond homes into representing buyers of apartment complexes. My business quickly grew and became more sophisticated, all because I wasn't allowed to do things the “easy way” from the beginning.
Now, every situation is different, but some things are universal. Instead of backing off your goals at the first “insurmountable” constraint, think of it instead as an opportunity to not only overcome the obstacle, but to transform your initiative into something more ambitious and abundant.
This is another example of staying with the problem longer. The first step is simply knowing that you don't have to remain a victim of circumstance.
- A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages
- Proof That Constraints Can Actually Make You More Creative
- How Constraints Make You Better: Why the Right Limitations Can Boost Performance
Part of the reason I've never taken venture capital (or even invested large amounts of my own money) to start any of my businesses is that I grew to love the challenge of the constraint. I truly believe that in most cases, you'll find a better way to approach things without the illusion that a big pile of cash is the best way to solve problems.
Plus, I used to be a control freak. Much better now. 😉
A high-profile group of futurists is exploring the possibility of extending human life (the ultimate constraint). How will they do it? Treat the body like a computer: How to Hack Your Body to Live Past 120
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The popular conception in our culture is that to succeed, your work must consume and define you. I certainly fell for that trap for too long. You might be surprised that many highly successful people actually create strict boundaries between work and “who they are”: How to Make Sure Your Work Does Not Define You.
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Many of us spend our time trying to minimize surprises in our drive to optimize our lives. That may be smart in some cases, but it might also be sapping some of our joy. Science explains why surprise brings us pleasure.
“You’ve probably heard the advice on test-taking before: Always go with your first instinct! But there’s a problem with this often-repeated piece of folk wisdom: It is not actually true, according to several decades of scientific studies investigating its veracity.” When Your First Instincts Are Probably Wrong.
Can you train your brain to deliver moments of insight that seem to pop up without your conscious awareness? You'll have to read this to find out: How to Harness the Science of Sparking Ideas. And while we often speak of “light bulb” moments, learning actually looks more like lightning bolts in the brain.
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Until next week, go out and create some abundance. Check out the archives here.