How to turn constraints into opportunities

When we come up against a constraint in the workplace, such as a lack of resources or an impossible short time frame, we tend to see it as a limitation, which ultimately stifles creativity and performance.  But what if we started to look at constraints as opportunities instead?

There are strategies that leaders and organizations can use to change the way we look at constraints and turn them to our advantage.

When approached in the right way, constraints can stimulate us to achieve more and can be an impetus for a better outcome.  For instance, Twitter’s limit of 140 characters per post forces users to craft a concise and easily digestible message, which is an inherent part of the platform’s popularity.

Leaders can adopt the following strategies to turn challenges into opportunities:

Ask propelling questions.  When we frame our ambition, we often ignore the challenge we are facing, such as a lack of resources.  We should ask “propelling questions,” which involve linking the size of your ambition and the specificity of your constraint into one.  This propels you out of a path that you may have been going down fruitlessly for years.

A propelling question simply cannot be answered in the way you have responded to the last five or six challenges, forcing teams to think in a different way and interrogate there underlying assumptions.

Never say never.  When attempting to solve difficult problems, keeping optimism alive is essential.  So in meetings do not allow anyone to use the phrase “we cannot do this because…”.  Instead, you should invite the idea to be framed in terms of “we can do that if…”.

This technique keeps the conversation focused on how the problem can be solved rather than whether it can be solved and it keeps optimism and inquisitiveness alive in the room.  It also changes the narrative participants create about themselves from “we are people who create barriers and impediments “to “we are people who find solutions to problems.”

Take a fresh look at resources.  We have to get used to thinking about our resources in a different way.  In a post-abundant world, we see our resources in a business as the things we own, the budget we are given, and the assets we are sitting on.,

Instead, we need to think of ourselves as having an adjacent network of abundance and knowledge that we do not own but we do have access to, and our job as leaders is to work out how to access those and to persuade the owners of those to let them flow to us and let us use them, for our good and theirs.

As we move into an environment with more unusual problems and constraints, how good we become at using strategies like these to overcome them will determine our success over the next 15 to 25 years.