We have had a great start to the Clarity in Problem Solving Program and one topic that has jumped out to me during our initial two live workshops has been ‘constraints'.

It is I think human (or maybe just me?!) to shy away from constraints and prefer to trust our own judgement and processes.

However, my experience in helping people deliver greater impact when solving problems and communicating is that they are hugely powerful.

Let me first illustrate with a personal example and then expand into the professional before offering you a practical challenge.

Personal: a clever idea for using space driven by constraints

An article in a local magazine caught my eye some time ago. It described a clever renovation undertaken by some locals who loved their neighbourhood and wanted to ‘stay put' despite having a small terrace home and a growing family.

This drove at least three constraints: staying within the current small home, adding two young children combined with heritage rules that did not allow them to expand their footprint, either out or up.

The idea that I thought would make Mari Kondo the most proud was their idea to use the space under the floor boards for toy storage.

They built a discrete hatch that enabled them to sweep up and hide the day's mess, enabling them to use their living area multiple ways.

I thought that was a clever and practical example of constraints driving creativity and unexpected results.

I have not seen any other renovation take advantage of this space and suspect their space constraints were pushing them to think harder than most when redesigning their home.

Professional: opportunities for us to get creative also

I have many examples of where constraints have proved to be more help than hindrance in a professional setting, but let me offer just a couple to give you some ideas.

Amazon's culture of frugality. Amazon has 14 leadership principles which it ‘sticks to' across the organisation. Frugality is Number 10, and is described as follows:

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

This is one of the approaches that helps Amazon maintain its ‘startup' culture, and avoids the risk of corporate bloat as the business grows.

‘Rules' for structuring ideas. We have developed a set of 10 ‘rules' for evaluating the rigour with which we map our ideas on a page when solving problems and also separately when communicating.

Sticking to these rules helps us test whether we are focusing on the right question, whether we have mapped the problem or the ‘story' out completely and powerfully.

It's not about having a ‘pretty page' but rather ensuring our thinking stacks up.

We have learned from experience that not just understanding the principles that underpin these rules, such as MECE for example, but trusting our internal radar that spots an anomaly. This matters even when we see something small, and when we can't articulate what is wrong but sense something is out of line.

As one of my team said to a new client recently, “We trust that the combination of your contextual expertise plus our process will deliver the right outcomes”.

Challenge: A simple way to introduce a powerful constraint into your world

So, here's a challenge for you: where can you introduce a constraint into your world to magnify your impact?

It could be as simple as either yourself or whoever manages your diary honouring the regular block of ‘thinking time' you set in your diary each week.

A coaching client of mine was this morning marvelling at the difference a new assistant was making. The assistant was pushing back on colleagues to avoid overwriting my client's ‘thinking time' blocks with other peoples' priorities.

This has revolutionised my client's week, giving her the space she needs to deliver real impact.

I hope that helps and look forward to sharing more ideas next week.

Kind regards,




Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle.

She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia where she was approved by Barbara Minto herself to teach Pyramid.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk and the occasional graduate.

Get her 4 Tips for Communicating Complex Ideas here.