The idea that constraints are constructive is not a novel one, by far. Study any of the arts and you quickly learn how artists use constraints to inform their creativity: jazz idioms, a painter’s choice of color palette or medium (oils, acrylics, water colors, etc.), an architect’s choice of materials, textures and shapes. Limiting possibilities is an essential part of the creative process. A Blues drummer once told me “It’s not just what you play that matters: knowing what not to play is what separates a good musician from a great one.” Lately, I’ve noticed this principle in three places that have surprised me.
I’ve been using Twitter for about six months now. 140 characters of text doesn’t leave a lot of room to get your point across. It’s amazing the amount of clarity focusing on brevity can bring!
It is no coincidence that the day I started using Twitter closely coincides with the release of the 3G iPhone. I finally had a mobile device that was actually usable for more than just phone calls. Many of my friends told me they were spending much less time on their computers because they could do so much on their iPhone. I did not expect that to be the case for me… and I was wrong. One might describe the iPhone as a laptop with a few, rather severe constraints: like the lack of a real keyboard, for instance. Much like the result of Twitter’s 140 character constraint, I find the lack of a real keyboard encourages me to keep my email responses small and poignant (hopefully you’re not wishing I would have written this blog entry on my iPhone!).
Travel & Packing
For my latest business trip, I decided that everything I needed for the trip had to fit in my backpack. I was doing my best to follow Andrew Hyde’s excellent example. I was very pleased with the added freedom packing lightly provided.
Over the past year I have been challenging software development teams and product management teams alike to start asking “what can we live without?” What features, enhancements, processes are not needed? What existing features can we live without? What’s not pulling it’s own weight? What is the customer ignoring or, worse yet, what are they working around.
Your product should not be like the ever-expanding universe. Learn how to use constraints to keep projects and products small and poignant! What you exclude from products and projects is as important as what you add.