In today’s world of infinite possibilities, our constraints can feel unfair and arbitrarily imposed. Actually, your constraints are your customized assets. Constraints limit the possibilities and help you decide on next steps. They force you to create workarounds. There’s this common fallacy out there that creativity works better constraint free. Nonsense. Just like a teenager, creativity thrives under constraints: it’s what drives genius.
No matter. The sooner you embrace your particular portfolio of constraints, the faster it begins to work for you and not against you.
Malcolm Gladwell, writing in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, reminds us:
“It was not the privileged and the fortunate who took in the Jews in France. It was the marginal and damaged, which should remind us that there are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish. If you take away the gift of reading, you create the gift of listening. If you bomb a city, you leave behind death and destruction. But you create a community of remote misses. If you take away a mother or a father, you cause suffering and despair. But one time in ten, out of that despair rises as indomitable force.”
Let’s take the constraint of being a quiet professional, economical with one’s words. Not because you don’t have something fascinating to say, but that you’re quite comfortable saying it succinctly. Maybe you hate repeating yourself.
Being quiet and working in a company of more than 5 people is definitely a traditional constraint. The squeaky wheels almost always overtake the other, often better-quality wheels, when it comes to promotions and juicy assignments.
Now if you embrace that constraint, you teach yourself to speak up a tiny little bit more frequently and to build dynamic relationships 1:1. You learn to make your presentations short but engaging. And in this process, you develop your winning leadership brand and fandom becomes you.
When she refers to curves, she’s talking about the concept as developed by communication scholar Everett Rogers in 1962 as a mathematical understanding of the process of diffusing innovative ideas. Whitney Johnson has transposed the concept of the S curve to refer to your own learning process. On one project you’ll learn slowly at first, then after a while you move up the steep part of the curve and plateau with a higher level of mastery. That usually is fun for a while and then you get bored and want to jump onto a new S curve.
The next S curve could be a new project where you are or it could mean a career move. Awareness of your constraints and your unique strengths help you know what that next move is.
Next time you feel that tightening constraint around you, step back and look for the path it’s showing you to your own genius development.