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Eliminating or Adding Constraints: Which is Right?

By Sally Witzky | October 22, 2018 | 0 Comments

When tackling a big challenge or a goal that may have many constraints or roadblocks, working backwards from the desired outcome is a collaborative approach that can help.

In Gartner’s recent Digital Dexterity at Work Executive Guidance report, Adobe is featured on page 14 in a mini-case study example for co-creating change plans. When bringing a team together to design events, the Adobe IT leadership team not only took a customer perspective but also avoided “constraining thinking by working back from an ideal state, gradually introducing barriers that the team needs to overcome.”

That’s sage advice.  If nothing else, it suggests to the team that the outcome is achievable or already happened and it’s easier to surmount the roadblocks if the goal seems possible.


Yet almost an opposing yet similar view is from the book by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden entitled “A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform your Limitations into Advantages and Why it’s Everyone’s Business.” Constraints can “fuel passion and insight” as Marissa Mayer was quoted on page 27.

Back in 2005 while working at Google  developing a version of the Google Toolbar, Marissa’s team faced a number of challenges like size restrictions, fast download requirement, and fit to any screen. But rather than cut the engineering team some slack, “she would add further constraint to the brief, deliberately limiting the size of the development team to three people and giving them a day to create the first prototype. She understood the need to create urgency and action in the face of potentially debilitating constraints that might lead to procrastination.”

On one hand, working back from a desired outcome is positive and reduces friction and constrained thinking to accomplish a goal. On the other hand, adding constraints when problem solving can eliminate procrastination in getting to the solution faster. Either way, constraints are an effective part of digital dexterity through creative problem solving and idea generation in product development, marketing, corporate strategy and more.





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