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Collaborative work

How constraints can help teams with innovative thinking

By Rick Kennedy
on Jun 16, 2016 1:00:00 AM

The premise of A Beautiful Constraint, by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden, is that a constraint, whether involuntary or self-imposed, can lead to increased creativity and innovative thinking, generating breakthrough results. Without the constraint, our tendency is to resort to existing techniques and business practices, never achieving a real breakthrough.

Constraints and innovative thinking

Constraint challenges

This got me thinking about an earlier experience, when I led a multilanguage content development team. I challenged the team to reduce the average cost of producing a one-day training course by 60%, even though we were already faster and lower-cost than our competitors.

The team was convinced I was crazy. Had I challenged them with 10%, I was confident I would get 10%. But with the rapid evolution of technology, I felt we would be vulnerable to innovative start-ups, using new and revolutionary processes.

By self-imposing a 60% constraint, we had to completely rethink the how of content creation. The old process simply would no longer work.

A new methodology

The result was a completely new methodology of developing training content. The cost of our core English course development actually increased. However, we invested in the development of a computer-assisted translation engine, specifically designed for our unique content. The result was a cost reduction for all other 11 languages by 80%. After the first year, we achieved a 62% average cost reduction.

More recently, I began working with a young oil and gas firm that uses a triple bottom line to manage and measure business performance (people, profit, planet). This is a tall order, especially in an environment of cheap oil. However, by applying cheap oil as a constraint and challenging the team to find ways to make this work, the company is completely reinventing what an oil and gas firm looks like. Very inspiring, indeed.

Innovative solutions

Nureva visual collaboration solutions are designed to facilitate teams to address complex business and social challenges. Leaders and facilitators can apply constraints to complex challenges at the start or even before a project officially kicks off, giving teams the opportunity to push the limits of their thinking early in the process. Therefore, innovation is no longer limited by time and place.

Examples are all around us of constraints in business, as companies seek methods to be more efficient. The outcomes that I’ve experienced demonstrate that this is a positive initiative at all stages of project planning and thinking.

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Topics: creativity innovation process improvement


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