Someone asked me, in the middle of what I assume to be a caffeine-fueled rant about something or another, the kind where people think my head will fly off from sheer enthusiasm like some meth-addled cheerleader, how I deal with constrains and limitations.
Is there anyone who works without constrains and limitations? Anyone with an endless budget, a team of programmers and writers and artists at their disposal, a minion who follows them collecting every stray thought down in a moleskin notebook that is latter transcribed into digital form, and 27 hours in the day?
Can I have your job?
It doesn’t matter what the job is, there are limitations and constraints. Even top people at Google, who have more resources at their disposal at a moment’s notice than I may have in a lifetime, are constrained by branding, culture, and methodology. Consider the designer at google who has to justify that exact shade of blue by creating five permutations, running them all through multivariate testing simply to show that that is a pretty and effective shade of cobalt.
There are legal limitations (the Feds will break down your door and haul your butt to a prison in Nova Scotia (yes, that’s how serious they are: they are going to imprison you in another country) never to be heard from again), cultural limitations (sorry, we can’t say we’re the best at that because the owner is uncomfortable bragging about that…), resource limitations (sure, we’ll build that for you just as soon as our army of a million developers at a million workstations arrives), and even personal limitations (my watch only has 24 hours on it, and if I don’t sleep for some of them and see my wife for at least two of them, I’m going to be spending a lot more time looking for a new place to live…).
You can choose to hate them. You can choose to understand and appreciate them, or you can learn to love them.
You remember Mad Men’s first episode, right? Where Don has hit a wall of limitations. No more talking about how healthy cigarettes are, or how safe they are, or… anything. He’s trapped by the limitations. Frankly, I’m guessing he came up with his last 17 cigarette campaigns between drinks because there were so few limitations. And you know what? I’m guessing they were boring campaigns. Maybe .7% cleverer than anyone else’s (because he’s the hero of the story, duh), but still run of the mill.
When Don hit a limitation, he was forced to move in a new direction and grow creatively. He had his “It’s toasted” moment. He realized that his limitation was everyone else’s limitation and moved to where he realized they were all going to go, but be the first one there. Limitations allowed him to find new ways to be creative.
Limitations actually build creativity. Necessity of the mother of invention, and necessity’s sister is limitation (I am now tired of typing the word limitation, for the record).
Love your limits. They show you how to grow.