As defined by TEDEd Educator Brandon Rodriguez, “Creative constraints are the requirements and limitations we have to address in order to accomplish a goal.”
This includes factors such as:
- Required materials
- Availability of materials
- Technical specifications
- Current technology
- Laws of physics
In addition to the factors above, boundless freedom isn’t always helpful. In fact, it can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Your team simply may not know where to begin. Or their brainstorming process will lack the focus and direction provided by limitations. The key to successful innovation is ensuring limitations are essential and derived from a true necessity.
How Constraints Foster Innovation?
Rodriguez also shares that “Constraints can foster innovation when they represent a motivating challenge and focus efforts on a more narrowly defined way forward.”
So, don’t focus on the limitation, focus on the potential to drive discovery and innovation. Use limits as a foundation that begins the brainstorming process and as a touch point while you experiment with different concepts.
Also use them to define the limits of your team’s current knowledge base, so that you can address skill gaps.
What Is an Essential Limitation?
An essential limitation is something static. It’s not a ‘nice to have’, but a requirement. Even if it is something that is expected to evolve, the current innovation must align with the current limitation.
Coronavirus vaccine development is a shining example. While all vaccines are designed to protect the unique virus they are designed for, the Coronavirus presented an atypical constraint. It was required as soon as possible. Innovative scientists rose to the occasion by producing a vaccine in record time.
Technical requirements are also common constraints. For example, even if a product’s software is proprietary, there is often a need for it to integrate with other software to easily transfer, gather, and analyze data. Or the increased need for portability, Wi-Fi-free data transfer, and optimized battery life.
How to Determine If a Limitation Is Essential?
In many instances, there is no way around the current limitation. However, there is a fine line between creative constraints that drive innovation and constraints that limit innovation.
Sometimes when we set out to create an essential limitation, our personal or professional mindset creates an unnecessary or unfeasible constraint. So, if your team is resistant to a limitation, listen, as they may innovate an alternative. Keep the lines of communication open to ensure there isn’t another way.
The story of Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba is an ongoing inspiration for out-of-the-box innovation. You may have seen the movie, read his book, or heard his TED Talk.
It took him four years, but at the age of 13 years old, he slowly began constructing a functioning windmill using scrap metal, PVC pipe, and parts from tractors and bicycles. His limitations were extreme, but so was his desire for light. You likely have far greater resources and fewer limitations.
Utilize examples such as Kamkwamba’s to inspire your team.
What are the Limits of Innovation?
Never lose sight of your end-user, both internal and external. Before you move too far forward, touch base again with your R&D team. While they were likely involved in developing your creative constraints, check in again before exploring your idea further. This will help to ensure your idea is desirable, feasible, and viable.
Desirability—you must be able to assess the likelihood of your audience investing their time and money in your innovation. Not all interesting ideas have legs, but every idea you pass on creating is a vital part of the creative process. This is where a strategic system such as IdeaScale comes in.
Feasibility—some things that aren’t currently feasible can be easily addressed, such as filling a skills gap. Other ideas require new inventions that haven’t been created yet. For example, watch your favorite sci-fi movie or TV show. There is great innovation in futuristic technology, but we’re limited by current technology.
Viability—even if an idea has legs, it may not have staying power. For example, if your idea is inspired by a current fad, you must consider how quickly you can generate profit while the fad is still trending. Or you may be limited by laws and compliance regulations.
What to Do When An Innovation Fails?
Failure is frustrating at any stage of the game, but failure is inevitable. Try not to be discouraged, as much can be learned from innovations that never come to light.
On the same note of light, Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times before he successfully created a lightbulb. He viewed each failed attempt as a learning opportunity as to what didn’t work. Thankfully today, we have tools and technology that help to limit the number of avenues we must explore to realize our innovations.
In addition to viewing failure as a learning experience, consider if it has another internal or external application. There are numerous inventions created by accident while experimenting to create something else.
For example, in 1968 Dr. Spencer Silver was tasked with developing an ultra-strong adhesive. One of his tests was a minimally strong adhesive. Sharing this development with his colleague Arthur Fry, they decided to create a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out of books. This evolved into the Post-It-Notes we know today.
Need help identifying your areas of opportunity, prioritizing your solutions, or aligning creative constraints with end-user needs? We invite you to reach out today for a free demo.