How The Most Creative People Find The Best Opportunities

Constraints are opportunities. Don't believe me? Consider the words of iconic American designer Charles Eames:

"Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem -- the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible -- his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth."

We all have constraints. What can set you apart from others is this willingness and enthusiasm described by Eames. If you can have the optimism to see constraints as opportunities, you will create new value. This is creativity.


Get into the habit of shifting a constraint into an opportunity. 

The more you practice this with everyday limitations, the better you will be at seeing things from multiple directions. 

That small apartment you've been complaining about is easy to clean. Your long commute is precious alone time to read, to listen to music, or to play games. The travels that take you away from family are also your opportunity to meet new people, to try new food, and to sleep without your children waking you up. 

Think like Pollyanna, the children's book character who sees difficulties in life cheerfully, to hone your skill in flipping constraints to opportunities.

Use existing constraints as the building block for your next solution.

Francis Mallmann, three-star Argentinian chef, is famous for cooking in the Patagonian wilderness. His constraint? No kitchen. His opportunity? To invent new cooking and barbecuing techniques. His experiment is well-documented in the Netflix series, Chef's Table.

Charles and Ray Eames used the limits of plywood to invent new furniture. Their constraint was single-shell plywood chairs, where the back and seat were made of one continuous piece, cracked. Their solution, through trial and error, was to design plywood chairs made of two pieces, a separate back and seat. They joined the two pieces with an additional plywood spine or, on another design, with a metal frame. The Eames' lounge chair, recliner, etc., are all variations on this theme.

Julia Child created Mastering the Art of French Cooking in response to constraints. At the time, Americans didn't have French ingredients and they valued practicality and speed over taste. Child rewrote French recipes with American ingredients and modernized them to be simple and accessible to Americans. Another constraint she had was that the French learned how to cook from their parents. She became the surrogate mother and taught the process on TV.

Elon Musk didn't have the money other established car companies had when he started his company Tesla. That was his constraint. He turned it into an opportunity by creating a pre-order system where he painted a picture of the future for his buyers and convinced them to pay for their cars in advance. The preorders funded and continue to fund an important part of Tesla's development costs.

Work with your constraints, not against them.

Make someone else's constraint your opportunity.

The constraint of the traditional taxi service model was that the customer had to go to the service, rain or shine, rush hour or not. Uber took that constraint, which everyone knew existed hadn't didn't solved, and created a model where the service goes to the customer, when they need it, where they need it. Uber's willingness to tackle a constraint that others took for granted is what made that business unique.

Is there a glaring constraint that none of your competitors are willing to solve? That is your opportunity.

Make constraints your ally. The trick is seeing negative issues as positive opportunities.

This article first appeared on on January 24, 2018