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The Opportunity in Constraints

Constraints sound limiting. But can we find opportunity in the everyday constraints of life ?

If we had unlimited money, unlimited resources and unlimited time we could achieve almost any dream we set our hearts to.

This is a classic argument that humans sometimes subscribe to. Our dreams require passion, but to mitigate the constraints that might limit this passion, money, resources and time are the classic trifecta, we often shift the conversation to.

In the early stages of my career, there was a common refrain. We would respond to a client brief with some great ideas and most of them would be shot down due to budget constraints or lack of time or some other reason. Dejected, we would return to work, and in most instances blame the client for daring to dream without having the resources to make it happen.

It was the easy way out and a defence I would often resort to in everyday situations as well. There would always be an external reason for which I could not do what I wanted to do, or perform as well as I could have, or finish something that I needed to.

It was more often than not, the fault of the constraint - with me being the victim.

But what kind of constraints do we face in everyday life? And how can we work around them? Research suggests that constraints can be broadly classified under four categories.


A square peg cannot fit into a round hole. We all know this.

I would often look at situations within their physical constraints to decide if I could solve for them. This was easy because, every physical constraint limits errors and passes as information itself.

In life – space or capability is not a luxury that one can always have in their favour. Metaphorically or physically. Over time and after years of playing the victim I realised that the concept of space as well as capability can be re-imagined very easily by changing the problem itself. In short by changing the focus area of what we need to solve for in a problem, we can find solutions that can work within our ambit of space and capability.


These are a set of rules that help humans maintain a sense of coordination and understanding. The red light at the rear of a car can be physically interchanged with the yellow light in front of the same car, but it won’t make sense.

At work, I understood cultural constraints in the realm of human relationships and team management. When it came to relationships breaking down or individuals in a team not performing, it was always easier to say that the culture fit was missing. Much harder was to find a way in assimilating cultures to create success. Especially, when in the marketplace, labour and relationships were replaceable commodities.

Over time and infinite failures, I realised the value of culture and cultural assimilation. Understanding people and an organisations culture was key, since it was the best indicator of how I needed to adapt. Once I could win their trust by adapting to them, they were open to accepting me and my ideas as well. Assimilating new cultural nuances opened up a treasure trove of new ideas, new possibilities and new innovations. Innovations that helped in problem solving. That drove growth.

The more I started understanding this, the better I assimilated. The more I started being a player over being a victim.

The best leaders in the world drive nations with a multitude of race and cultural complexities. They do it by embracing the constraint. Not by saying that the culture fit of their population is wrong.


Logical constraints help us make decisions that are not associated with any other constraint. In short when our logic tells us that something won’t work, we tend to side-eye it and go for other solutions or give up on the problem itself.

The thing is, most problems don’t have linear mathematical solutions. Some do, however most problems are defined by perspectives. Logically man cannot fly and cars can’t drive themselves.

Today, both are commonplace occurrences.

It needs a different perspective and mathematical data to solve for the logic of a new perspective. Putting the blame on logic without putting the requisite effort in, is where we end up playing victim.

There is no one way to solve a problem. Most problems can be solved in multiple ways, just like most destinations can be reached using multiple roads. The more I trusted others to lead that journey, to forge that path, the more I started being a player. Things that were deemed unsolvable in my logic started to get solved. Un-learning and re-learning happened in a whole new way.


Semantic constraints rely on the meaning of a situation to determine the set of actions that are possible. However, meanings can change with a change in perspective. Requisite controls can change as well. Imagine a forklift and a car. For the same steering wheel motion one moves sideways and the other moves backward.

These are some of the most difficult ones to grasp and work upon.

What is semantically a constraint for me may not be a semantic constraint for you at all. Some of the best atheletes, writers, artistes and innovators this world has ever seen, came from immense poverty, infinite failures and unthinkable hardship. Yet they succeeded where millions of others with far more resources, failed.

For them poverty and lack of access did not mean lack of possibility. They were players. Not victims.Victims blamed the situation, blamed the people, blamed everything else and ended up nowhere.

We sometimes find pride in saying that we cannot change for anyone or anything. That we are who they are. But the point is – we have changed from what we were born as. In short, everyone changes. Most of us only do it when we are left with no choices. Those who do it proactively, unlock far more opportunities and networks, which lead to their inevitable success. Talent and background is over-rated. What swings the big votes are determination, devotion, practise and humility and an inherent will to improve on weaknesses.

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