How To Turn Your Limiting Constraints Into Seeds For Breakthrough Innovation

by asking a propelling question.

I spent the first couple of years as a solo founder wishing for more of everything. More time, more people, and more money so I could build more features and get more customers.

But it was hard to get more people without more money. It was hard to get more money without more customers. Leaving me with more things to do and not enough time…

These limiting constraints felt like a classic Catch-22.

I’d fall victim to these limiting constraints now and then and be confronted with revising my ambition downwards. This lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few days at a time. But somehow, I’d manage to find a way forward.

Only years later, I realized I had been applying a rudimentary form of constraint-driven innovation that I’ve since honed since then and use regularly.

The basic idea is using a systems approach to

  • identify the limiting constraint,
  • uncover root causes,
  • then formulate and test ways for breaking the constraint.

I shared that process here. Today I want to take this a step further.


When confronted with a limiting constraint, it is tempting to gravitate toward the obvious solution of acquiring more resources.

For founders with limited resources, not only is this typically a non-option, but falling victim to it is counterproductive.

There is a third (and better) way.

Lean into the Constraint to Achieve Your Goal.

You do this by asking yourself a propelling question.

I learned about propelling questions in a book titled: A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden.

When confronted with a limiting constraint, use the following prompt:

How do I achieve “the goal” without acquiring more of the limiting resource (constraint)?

You’ll notice that the propelling question ties together a bold ambition and a limiting constraint in the same question — forcing out-of-the-box breakthrough thinking.

This mind shift is the first step towards breaking constraints.

Not convinced? Let’s see an example.

How do you win Le Mans without a faster car?

The Audi race team had a goal of winning the prestigious Le Mans race. Their closest competitors, BMW and Mercedes, had won the race before, making the goal worth pursuing.

The obvious way to win a race is by building a faster car. However, building a significantly faster car is non-trivial and wasn’t possible given the time constraints leading up to the race.

The chief engineer at Audi instead posed a different question:
“How can we win Le Mans this year if our car cannot go faster than anyone else’s”?

Audi won Le Mans that year.

Can you guess how?



They won the race, not by building a faster car, but a more efficient car.

The Le Mans is a grueling twenty-four hours race. During that time, cars have to be refueled multiple times. By putting diesel technology into their race cars, Audi reduced the number of pitstops their car had to make, which was the edge they needed to win.

Propelling Questions for Founders

Founders aim to build repeatable and scalable business models before running out of resources… and face countless limiting constraints along the way:

  • How do I build what customers want without a complete team?
  • How do I build what customers want without a lot of money?
  • How do I get customers without a product?
  • How do I sell my product without a VP of Sales?
  • How do I build an MVP in less than 2 months?

I faced all these questions in my journey and managed to find ways forward by leaning into the constraint.

Like the Audi pitstop scenario, the answers came from looking elsewhere and realizing that

  • You don’t need a working product to make a sale,
  • The sales process can be used to define what you build (MVP),
  • You often have to build a lot less than you think,
  • Founders are better at making the first 10 sales than a VP of Sales,
  • Sales = traction, which makes bringing on more people easier.

Finding a feasible path forward is the first step. Then you actually have to commit to walking the path.

Constraints Are Gifts

The word “constraint” evokes a negative feeling in most people.

Constraint (noun): something that limits or restricts someone or something.

From a systems perspective, however, constraints are gifts.

Every system always has one, and correctly identifying that single constraint is key to practicing “right action, right time.”

The biggest results come from just a few key actions. The challenge, of course, is identifying where to focus and, more importantly, what not to do.

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