The book: A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages And Why It’s Everyone’s Business — a very smart text that is organized into three sections comprising the requirements needed to find the beauty in a constraint: mindset, method, and motivation.
Each section begins with a thesis and examples to support it and then provides practical tools (i.e., frameworks, question series, maps, and processes) to work with the thesis.
The best bits: There are so many brilliant and important points in A Beautiful Constraint — my copy is highlighted from front to back. A few of my favourite quotes are:
“Ten years from now, we would like to search Google for a definition of constraint and see it include this: a limitation or defining parameter, often the stimulus to find a better way of doing something.”
“Having a positive attitude toward problem-solving is not enough. To be open, we need to see what is making us close, and why. And we need language that allows us to talk about it with others…[We must] surface and make visible path dependencies by naming practices, beliefs, and assumptions that may have serves us well in the past, but are potentially limiting for the future. An easy way to start is to take the six words that are most important to the organization, and articulate what you mean by them.”
“The way we tend to think about resources…is a form of path dependence. We see the resource available to us as only what is given to us, or is directly within our control…But those who are genuinely resourceful see…resources as what they can access: what the rest of the company has; what those in their network have, what their neighbourhood (literally or metaphorically) has, and indeed what the big resource owners they have yet to meet may have that they can use.”
“Whether or not they have the seniority or the title, leaders are those who know how to influence others, to get them to work hard and constructively toward a common goal…What were the most important areas of focus for leaders in these situations, and what characteristics did they share?
- They believed transformers are made, not born.
- They steered their organizations toward constraints, not away from them.
- They set a high level of ambition, and legitimized that ambition.
- They knew when to reject compromise of that ambition.
- They got people to believe that it is possible.
- They used tension and storytelling to generate a longer-term emotional commitment.
- They encouraged and enabled their teams to challenge the organization’s routines and assumptions.”
The brand story: The book’s examples range from Mick Jagger to Nike to a non-profit healthcare provider to IKEA. The story about Surf, Unilever‘s value detergent, stood out to me because it demonstrates the brand-building power of differentiation.
“To keep its costs low, Unilever couldn’t use the same expensive cleaning enzymes as the premium brands. In a category driven historically by cleaning power, Surf needed to introduce a new criterion…Their insight was that the laundry experience was never-ending and joyless, and so the brand focused instead on introducing a much higher level of sensory delight in every interaction with Surf, and in particular the use of fragrances to give an emotional reward and pleasure to the user beyond cleaning power alone…Surf grew 36 percent globally between 2009 and 2012, and is now the leader in the value category. They took the lack of the best cleaning power as an offer to introduce an entirely new criterion on choice.”
The bottom line: I cannot do justice to the insight and instruction that A Beautiful Constraint provides. Read this book and you will be a smarter strategist, a savvier brand-builder, a more inspiring leader, and a more resourceful person.
Listen to my conversation with Mark and Adam to learn:
- why inspiration is a way to build confidence
- what are “propelling questions” and how they combine constraint with ambition
- why they firmly believe brand purpose matters
Other brand book bites:
- Sticky Branding by Jeremy Miller
- The 46 Rules of Genius by Marty Neumeier
- The Business of Belief by Tom Asacker