How Exaggerated Constraints can help bring disruptive innovation?

In building products we often come across constraints. Whether it is technical constraint, a business constraint, a statutory constraint or financial constraint, it impedes our activity. It is often these constraints that leads to innovation. When the vision is sacrosanct, and achieving the goal is the only option, innovation appears, disguised as constraints.

In April 2001, when Steve Jobs was sitting with his team on deciding the fundamentals of the iPod. The challenge in front of the them was how to design an experience where the user can browser through 100’s of playlist items smoothly. They didn’t want the user to press the button 100 times to go to the 100th song. It was this constraint that brought in the innovation of the famous track wheel that could scroll through thousands of songs just by using thumb.

Constraints drive innovators to look for innovative ways to solve the problem. However, one of the common pitfalls is to get into the loop of incremental innovation. Disruption happens when we break the cycle of incremental innovation. One powerful tool to break this loop is by Leveraging the Power of Exaggerated Constraints.

We were building a finishing school for engineering students that would equip them with skills and competencies to be Industry Ready as they graduate. All said and done our costs could not go below ₹15000 per semester. With engineering students from Tier 2 cities as our target market, there was no way we could capture this value. It was then our coach introduced us to this concept of Exaggerated Constraints. The constraint was that the engineering students of a tier 2 city would not be able to pay the above amount every semester. Instead of working on ways to reduce the cost, he suggested, we exaggerate the constraint we had in hand.

So instead of trying to understand what amount would they be willing to pay, we exaggerated the constraint by assuming, what if the student can’t pay even a single rupee? How would we earn revenue with such a constraint. In fact we notched up the constraint one more level. Instead of asking ourself, how can we bring the fees to Zero Rupees (the exaggerated constraint), we thought, “Forget the student paying, how can we build a product where we can pay the student a stipend to use our product and become industry Ready?”

This mindset opened up so many different doors of thoughts for us – the product features took a totally different shape and form. The final product business model indeed had us paying a stipend to the users over we collecting a fees from the students. Exaggerated constraints helps product managers break away from the vicious cycle of Incremental innovation leading to disruptive opportunities. Instead of finding a workaround for the challenge, this pushes innovators to eliminate the constraint totally and look for ways to achieve the problem without this as a factor.

I have been experimenting this is in various micro situations as well and it has worked fairly well. This tool helps each one of us to transform from “We can’t do this” to “How else can we do this” mindset. I Invite you to try this. I would love to explore and have a conversation on how this worked or didn’t work for you.

Photo by Raúl Nájera on Unsplash