Innovation Starts with Defining the Right Constraints

What drives big, breakthrough innovations? Often it’s constraints — limitations that force designers to rethink the whole problem and come up with something completely new to address it. The caveat here is that certain constraints spur big thinking, while others tamp it down. Limiting outcomes (a new product needs to cost 10% what it’s competitors do) or time (design this product in nine months) or both creates specific bounds for designers, but leaves the path they take to reach this goal wide open, forcing them to consider bold new solutions. Most leaders, however, constrain budget and risk. They tell teams their innovation must cost no more than a certain amount — a figure based on assumptions about what kind solution the team will deliver — or communicate to the team, “don’t do anything too risky, especially something that might cannibalize existing business.”

About George Veth

George Veth is a consultant in the areas of strategy execution and initiative management. Most recently, he has been leading a cross-boundary collaboration program with teams from cities across North America and Europe. He lives in Cambridge, MA, and runs a nonprofit SME Impact Fund in East Africa. His subject matter interests are organizational culture, management [system] innovation, and public value management.