A target or a limit?

Are constraints always negative?



Article Author Sarah Willcox

Sarah Willcox is the Founder of Fairisle Consulting

Thinking creatively

Our work involves helping clients think creatively about solutions to their challenges. We set the conditions to enable clients to view long standing problems with fresh eyes. Our aim is to help them move away from constraint thinking and find innovative solutions to challenges.

Too much choice

Even when there is the freedom to think without constraint, we can encounter problems. We have all known the paralysis of thought that can happen when there is too much choice. Even when you’re standing in front of the laundry aisle in a supermarket, too much choice can be a problem.


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A cold bath

The difficulty is, this isn’t always as easy as we would like. Life is not full of limitless possibilities. Cold hard reality sometimes hits harder than we are prepared to admit. All the time we are in denial about a situation, it’s impossible to move forward.

A sheet of grey paper

This freedom of choice can work against creative ideas. There is something intimidating about a large blank sheet of white paper. Making the first mark can be quite difficult. At times like this, the solution can be very simple. I had an art teacher who encouraged me to draw on grey or off-white paper, to get around this. For some reason, it really takes the pressure off.

A person working late. Image credit Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash


The Endurance Trap


Learn to love limits

It may be that you are finding it difficult to solve problems because you have too much choice. Or perhaps the constraints before you seem hard to accept. In either case, there is a real value in learning to love limits. Having accepted a limit, it can be fun to find creative ways to solve the challenge before you.


Where you are constrained by time, try ‘time-boxing’. Remembering that your two hours is a limit not a target encourages you to focus on tackling the important things first. And takes the pressure off trying to fill the two hours for the sake of it. Finish your meeting 15 minutes early and everyone will love you!


When you don’t have enough people on the team the key is to look at the skills you do have and prioritise. What’s most important to do? How can it be done with the skills you have available? What can you take off the list?


If you don’t think you have enough space to do the work that you need, explore what other options you have. Can you work collaboratively online? Are there opportunities to move a workshop or session outside? Even if it’s raining, everyone will remember what you talked about because it’s different.


Sometimes it feels we’re not making progress due to a lack of equipment or absence of tools. In which case, consider whether you are making assumptions about how to reach your objective. Pencils and paper can be as effective for planning as Jira or Basecamp.


Lastly, a lack of finance can make a real difference to how you reach your goal. Prioritisation, again, is an important consideration. What matters most? What will bring you most value for your chosen objective?

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The planning made simple workshop


Get what you need

In all these, knowing what your priorities are, and what you need to do to achieve them is key. Mick Jagger knew that. Check out the second song on the Fairisle playlist on Spotify to see what I mean.

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