Why Innovators Love Constraints – Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson

While dreaming and disrupting has unfettered me in many ways, it has shackled me in others. One of the most unexpected was losing a part of my identity. Once the rush of leaving a name-brand corporation wore off, it began to seep in that I could no longer call someone and say “Whitney Johnson, Merrill Lynch.” It was just Whitney Johnson. I also became reacquainted with the immediate concern of putting food on the table whilst on an entrepreneurial thrill ride to zero cash flow.

There’s a good dose of cosmic payback in all this. For years I pontificated about the importance of bootstrapping a business without having any firsthand notion of belt-tightening. Nearly a decade later, I find myself almost a fan of constraints. If you, like me, are a foot-dragging devotee, consider the following:

Fewer resources produce proximity; proximity drives innovation. When I worked for a bulge bracket Wall Street firm, our family lived in a very large home; had we chosen to, we could literally have lived separate lives and rarely interacted. When I quit my job to become an entrepreneur, we downsized, moving into a home with ¼ of our former living space. No longer having a beautiful space to entertain sometimes makes me wistful. But most days I love our closer quarters. We bump up against one another, negotiate who sits where, who washes the dishes when and who watches what. Proximity can lead to friction, and friction can rub people raw. But it can also light a fire, one that warms and binds us into a family.

Workplace proximity can be equally productive. High-tech giant Adobe recently opened a striking new building in Lehi, Utah specifically designed to create an ecology of planned and unplanned cooperation and innovation among its employees. 85% of the interior is open workspace with only 15% devoted to offices. The building includes a full basketball court and extensive fitness areas, pool tables, a café and eating/lounging area — all to encourage employees to meet and interact with each other. Adobe hopes that by pushing people out of offices, their employees will run into each other more often, spontaneously generating ideas and solutions.

Read more via Why Innovators Love Constraints – Whitney Johnson – Harvard Business Review.



Jim Woods is president of The Jim Woods Group. A management consulting firm. Go here to see his work www.jimwoodsgroup.com. He advises and speaks to organizations large and small on how to increase top line growth in times of uncertainty and complexity. Some of his speaking and consulting clients include: U.S. Army, MITRE Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Whirlpool, and 3M. See more at his website www.jimwoodsgroup.com.

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