March 7th, 2018

Creativity Loves Constraint

I became a fan of Adam Morgan after reading “Eating the Big Fish – How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders” about 15 years ago. This book single handedly changed my perspective of what being a challenger brand should mean. We’ve utilised the challenger framework captured in his book “Overthrow” to reframe our outlook on brand positioning across sectors. So needless to say, I’m a really big fan!


Sometime in 2016, I had the opportunity to read his new book titled “A Beautiful Constraint”. For perspective, I live and work in Nigeria as a business leader specifically in marketing and I find myself using a phrase from the book often – “creativity loves constraints”.


Across our businesses, this phrase has become a type of ethos where we aren’t trapped by the information we know but by the ones we don’t. Knowledge is liberating, even if the knowledge is of what you don’t have. Defining constraints increases focus and some would argue improves productivity.


“We live in a world of seemingly ever–increasing constraints, driven as much by an over–abundance of choices and connections as by a scarcity of time and resources. How we respond to these constraints is one of the most important issues of our time, and will be a large determinant of our future progress as people, businesses and citizens of our planet” – A Beautiful Constraint.


In Nigeria, of course there are constraints everywhere. A good number of startups are driving “constraint led innovation” in a variety of sectors. In some cases, these startups are redefining business models leaving incumbent companies in a state of shock and panic heightened by declining revenues.


David Ogilvy is famously quoted as having said, “Give me the freedom of a tight (creative) brief.” This is another way of defining the term liberating constraint. In the world of Nigerian advertising and marketing, it is refreshing when companies would state budgets in briefs because whilst a low budget might be seen as a constraint, knowing helps improve creativity and effectiveness.


In major markets, company budgets, channel spend, print circulation numbers etc are considered public information. Most times when brands are asked about budget for briefs, you might get a response similar to “we don’t want to stifle your creativity”, come back with a budget. Surely, this cannot be the best way.


As marketeers, let’s embrace constraints to lead us into a new age of innovation and creativity.