We have our son’s first parents’ evening of the new school year next week. Pre-Covid (remember then?), this would have involved us arriving late, being confused about where to go and waiting endlessly for other parents to finish their sessions before grabbing 30 seconds with a teacher about his progress.

Things are different now. Parents’ evenings run on Teams or Zoom and each session is time-limited to 5 minutes when the screen just goes blank. It’s great. We get better information in less time and with less hassle.

The Zoom-based parents’ evening is just one small innovation that has arisen out of the Covid-19 crisis. Faced with the constraint of running these events without physical attendance, schools have created something far, far better.

And it’s the constraint that drove the innovation.

There is plenty of evidence about the importance of constraints on innovation and creativity. In one psychological experiment, participants struggled to name 10 white objects, but when they were given a constraint – name 10 white objects that you find in a fridge – the same people found the exercise much easier.

Elsewhere, a Cass Business School review of 145 empirical innovation studies found that constraints foster innovation when they represent a motivating challenge and focus efforts on a more narrowly defined way forward (such as the parents’ evening problem). GE Healthcare, for instance, revolutionized rural access to healthcare in developing countries when their engineers were given the challenge of creating an ECG device that had the latest technology but was highly portable, battery-operated and produced scans that cost less than $1 each.

Where do you need to accelerate innovation in your organisation? And what constraints could you use as creative challenges to help focus your teams’ efforts and improve your innovation results?

Off The Record: Good Technology by Red Guitars

We’ve got ability to transplant a heart

We’ve got freezers full of body parts

We’ve got computers that can find us friends

We know roughly when the world will end

Good, good, good, good, good

Good technology

Getting Your Innovation Strategy Right

Business leaders are constantly exhorted to innovate. But what kind of innovation should managers pursue? The Innovation Strategy Matrix helps you to answer that question and get your innovation strategy right.

Stuart Cross 2021. All rights reserved.