Do our limitations confine us or define us? HBR.org reviewed 145 empirical studies on the effects of constraints on creativity and innovation, finding that individuals, teams and organizations all benefit from a healthy dose of limitations. Only when constraints become extreme do they stifle us. Our recent lived experience is a prime example. While literally confining us to our houses, the pandemic also served as a springboard for innovation – changing how we live, work and play. Lack of spontaneity gave way to creativity as we encountered limitations in our work and home lives, let go of travel plans, put projects on hold and saw everyday freedoms diminished.
Yes, constraints are inherently limiting, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They don’t have to hold us back. Understanding, defining and creating limitations is an important part of innovation. Constraints are catalysts for reframing opportunity, responding to change, seeing things differently and tapping into new revenue sources. Designing solutions requires us to set boundaries. Those who embrace limitations as a source of growth and opportunity will rise above the rest.
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Find the inspiration in limitation
Constraints are good – a set of challenges that lead to creativity. Limitations focus efforts on a more narrowly defined way forward, steering clear of the extremes.
Tackle limitations like challenges
Problems and obstacles should be bridges rather than constraints (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind). Limitations challenge us to dig deeper and move beyond status-quo thinking.
Use limitations as opportunities to improve efficiency
Reframe budget limitations as an opportunity to rethink how to use your resources more effectively. Connect earned, owned and paid media more closely. When you fully understand the constraints of a media channel, you’ll be able to develop stronger creative ideas that have greater impact. Ask yourself too what limitations your customers are facing. An empathetic and practical response to their lived experience primes your brand for success.
Find limitation inspiration
We love how these brands are showing courage when facing constraints, turning limitations into opportunities:
- Walmart has pivoted the continued closure of traditional movie theatres into a chance to open drive-ins at 160 of its store parking lots.
- Comedian and social-media star Josh Ostrovsky nailed it when he put a physically distanced manicure solution in the hands of his wine brand, Babe.
- Umphang Hospital Foundation turned otherwise wasted surplus medication into support for patients who can’t afford to fill a prescription.
Overcome communication limitations with direct mail
Spending more time at home, our perceptions of value changed. Like gardening and baking, letter writing has once more become a popular way for us to connect mindfully with each other. With an emphasis on humanity, we eagerly awaited lockdown letters, cards and art, which reminded us how mail strengthens ties. This New York Times article tells how mail is getting people through a time when we’ve been less mobile and not so spontaneous.
In the same way, reaching out to customers directly, at home, adds intimacy to brand experiences. It makes up for limited access in other channels – where constraints have been brought on by restrictions. Promoting brand discovery through a physical, at-home experience can recapture that feeling of surprise and delight. By connecting direct mail through data to other channels like OOH, social media and experiential marketing, you can bridge the gap between brand and customers, as well as between their out-of-home and at-home worlds.
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