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Can you use constraints as fuel for innovation?

Everyone tells use we need to innovate in business, but how to do it is not always easy to see. We tend to think of artists and other creatives as being different from the rest of us, but in reality there are lots of things that artists intuitively know that we can apply to business.

Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin says, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got”.

In the post-GFC Australian economy, everyone wants to be as innovative as possible, in order to adapt and flourish. Often though, the idea of being innovative sounds just too exhausting. While we want to adapt and innovate to stay ahead of the pack, we often fall back into all our old ways of doing things. But though the tried and true approach is comforting, but it won’t get us to the top of our game.

Many artists live by the mantra: “do the best you can with what you’ve got”, and this is actually an easy approach to apply to business.

Instead of worrying about what you don’t have, like resources, time, money, extra staff, or a large advertising budget, learn to work with, and maximise, what you’ve got.  Whether you are an individual working for yourself, or a larger organisation, understanding your strengths and weaknesses and what you’ve got to work with, can not only save you time and money, but it can help you build a business or organisation that is successful, authentic and unique.

A good example from the arts world is the group of artists who use found objects. These artists search beaches, streets or recycling outlets like Reverse Garbage for bits and pieces they think are interesting, and then put them together to make an artwork. They use what they have and what’s to hand to turn it into something much greater than the sum of its parts.

Musicians do this too. Though can choose which instruments to use, they can’t choose the voices they have, so they make the best of what they’ve got by finding creative ways of using notes, melodies, harmonies and style to create and play their music.

Psychology of Creativity researchers have found that constraints can actually make us more innovative. These constraints and limitations can be used to challenge us and fire our imagination – giving us food for innovation.

To apply the “so the best you can with what you’ve got” maxim to business, we simply need to have a clear and objective look at what we’ve got to work with. Ask yourself if your organisation has particular expertise, exceptional service, a committed and cohesive team, or significant experience, and play to that. To grow or run a business, we need to work effectively and creatively with what we’ve got instead of wishing we had something else.

Artists of all kinds know how to work with their medium, not against it, and they don’t waste time or energy trying to get their materials or talents to do things they can’t do. They work with what they have.

It’s not as hard to be innovative in business as you might think. You don’t need to be Steve Jobs or Pixar, or be constantly bringing new products to market. Everyone is creative in their own way, and so can every organisation be. Just begin by learning what you have to work with, and start putting it to good use.

Do what artists do, and do the best you can with what you’ve got.

With thanks to Mike Wagner for the Cold Play interview.

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