The value of limits

I’ve recently been looking at buying a new camera. After struggling for a couple of years to get decent shots with our compact, I wanted to upgrade.

That’s where it all got a bit “complex”.

Digital SLR or micro 4/3rds? Should I invest in the body or the lense? Which lenses do I need? Wi-fi compatible or not? Which make? New or second hand? How much do I need to spend?

Everywhere I turned another option appeared, everyone I spoke to had a different opinion or suggestion, each review I read online seemed to contradict the last.

Eventually, and after many wasted hours, I stopped looking. Analysis paralysis had struck.

This episode really got me thinking about why I couldn’t decide, and about what lessons I could draw from it.

What I realized was that the main reason for my indecision was that I had not set myself enough constraints - I hadn’t really set a budget, or thought through my “must have” features, or even what features I didn’t want or need.

Without some type of limitation I was simply floundering in the face of the huge range of choices before me.

The same is often true in business. Sometimes we all need constraints in order to find creative solutions to problems and decisions we face.

One tool to stimulate innovation within your business model is fix certain parts, then see what you can change in what’s left to create something new e.g. if we only have product X, what could we do with it to make it appeal to new customer types? Or, if we could only sell through online channels, what would we have to do differently - how would we change our product? What new revenue streams would we try to create? What new resources would we need?

I recently read a great quote by Brian Eno on just this subject that really resonated. He believes that the electric guitar became a dominant instrument because it’s so “stupid”. By “stupid” he meant inflexible - it can do so little. However, what it can do, it does very well. Its limitations allow players to go to the edge of what the instrument can deliver.

As with guitars, so with cameras and businesses. In this time of infinite possibility, sometimes all we need are limits to allow us to make a breakthrough in another area – a truly creative constraint.

In case you were wondering, I still haven’t bought a camera.