November 28


Dominic Basulto on Thanksgiving and Innovation

In a recent article for the Washington Post, blogger Dominic Basulto discusses the importance of constraints and hardships that can actually become the basis for innovation.

Nearly 400 years ago, a brave band of pilgrims faced a number of constraints and hardships in Plymouth Colony. Rather than focusing on what they did not have, they used their creativity and innovation to assemble a bounteous Thanksgiving feast that has since become an American tradition. Today’s innovators can learn a great lesson from this episode. Constraints — whether it is in the form of capital, liquidity, time or attention — can actually become the basis for innovation to flourish in places where you least expect it.

Back in 1984, an influential book called The Goal introduced a “theory of constraints” and thirty years later these ideas are becoming increasingly mainstream. Even in one case study about Google, it was found that constraints help to focus the creativity of Google’s innovators and ensure that the right structures are in place to guide innovation. If constraints are good for innovation at Google, they might be good for innovation in other businesses. This is particularly true for startups. Too much capital, too soon, may actually work against startup entrepreneurs by forcing their business to search out new market opportunities when they don’t exist yet.

In case of Plymouth Colony, there were limited resources at Plymouth, and the settlers made the best of it. If the original Thanksgiving had been blessed with an abundance of capital and financial resources, things might have turned out differently. The relative hardship of life in the New World forced these pilgrims to become creative in how to allocate resources for organizing a huge Thanksgiving feast as well as to become more open to adapting the survival tactics of the local Native Americans. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, in this Thanksgiving, give thanks for the important things in your life. It’s also worth thinking about how the things we don’t have in our lives may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Therefore, the potential for the greatest innovation occurs exactly at those moments when you are facing the greatest constraints.

Read more details in The Washington Post

So what lessons are you learning from your constraints? Tell us in the comment below.



Dominic Basulto, Innovation, Thanksgiving, Theory of Constraints

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