The Currency of Beautifying Constraint

In this episode, we’re learning to become affluent in the currency of beautifying constraint with question thinking. We are breaking free of path dependency (habit thinking), which keeps us from working through the stages of processing constraint. Listen in to start building open and flexible thinking that characterizes self-leaders who know how to leverage constraint, to their own and their organizations’ success. 


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Boss Yourself First –


Have you ever been relying on your maps app to get someplace and there is a turn immediately followed by another turn? Have you ever not made the second turn and suddenly you’re lost? Of course, your maps app will start recalculating but the few seconds or sometimes moments we’re a bit disoriented, heading who knows where? That is a little like being confronted with a constraint suddenly your regular route is disrupted, and you have to figure out a new path to get where you want to go. You have to be really clear on where you want to go, and you have to really want to get there and you have to be willing to work harder than you originally intended to figure out a new path to get your desired result.  This season we’re talking about constraint which we’re defining as a limitation or defining parameter imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that can stimulate creativity and innovation. We talked about the stages of processing constraint in Episode Two and today we’re talking about the currency for processing constraint.


Before we get there though, I think we need to talk about what keeps us in the victim stage. And what keeps us there is habitual thinking or as the book a beautiful constraint says – path dependence.


Now I want to preface this with saying any time a constraint is encountered we have a period of disorientation. Things have changed and depending on the severity of the constraint, we a little shocked, Once the shock lessens, we stay in the victim stage because our ways of thinking and doing no longer yield the results we want. In the book Barden and Morgan tell a story to explain path dependence. The story begins with the required dimensions for the fuel engines for the original Space Shuttle. The engine dimensions couldn’t exceed 4 feet 8.5 inches not because that is what the designers’ believed would be the best sized for fuel burn or efficiency or aerodynamically but because that is the width of the rail line that would transport the engines from Utah to Florida. Here’s where the story gets really fun. Why is the rail line 4 feet 8.5 inches? Because the workers who built the railroad largely came from England and their predecessors had built the rail lines in England along paths made by horses pulling carts that fit those dimensions. The carts were made to fit those dimensions because that was a suitable size to fit the width of the roads first built by the Romans on which the paths were based. So the modern technology was built to suit a path designed and built over 2000 years earlier.  – Path Dependence. I love the story because it’s such a great example of having created a habit based on past constraint and desires but not current ones. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit you know how entrenched they can be. When explaining Path Dependence, Barden and Morgan say that “Today’s approaches are in effect yesterday’s approaches, based on what was appropriate then, not necessarily now. They are not simply processes, but paths made up of self-reinforcing bundles of beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors, whose nature a- and underlying rationally – may no longer be visible, and rarely questioned.

Here’s is an example that I’m still working on, my children range in ages over a span of 9 years so we all spent a significant amount of time in the car, traveling from one siblings activity or another. My constraint was that all the kids had to go with me is any of their siblings had an activity. Another constraint was there was often the matter of picking up from one activity and heading straight for the next one. How could I work with theses constraints and still keep the kids energized, healthy and happy? I made a habit of packing a plastic box of snacks. I would restock it once a week. We needed them for quick turn arounds or long waits in the car, Additionally, I also made sure to have fruit snacks, beef jerky or chocolate in my purse. It’s just handy if you wind up someplace with a fussy kid but don’t be deceived, I would snack right along with them after all they didn’t want to hang out with a fussy mom either.  And there’s the rub. My children are pretty much grown and no longer rely on me to get them from place to place, but for some reason, I still take snacks with me if I’m going somewhere. And I’m not talking road trips, I want to break the habit of the car snack. I had a helpful and legitimate reason to be armed with food at all times but that constraint of keeping my kids energized, healthy and happy is no longer there but the habit remains.


Barden and Morgan say, “The most significant and disabling constraint we face may not be the external ones but the internal ones that determine how open-minded and flexible we are in our problem-solving ability.”


So, if being open minded and flexible is what enables us to process constraint, how do we get open-minded and flexible?  Remember I told you we were going to focus on the currency of processing constraint. Let me ask you this,

Do you ever stop and ask yourself what’s going right? Isn’t that a crazy thought? Now I realize that some of you may already have that as a practice but more often than not, I find myself laying my head on the pillow and thinking either about what went wrong in the day or what I need to do to avoid things going wrong tomorrow. I get it, that our brains are wired to perceive and focus on threats – things that are wrong or could be wrong. But what if we changed the question to what’s going right? It changes the things we’re noticing, to the things we did well, the things worth celebrating. It’s amazing the difference a question can make and questions are the currency we must build up to move from victim, to neutralizer to transformer and make constraint beautiful.


Questions are a coaches’ foundational tool, we use them to create awareness and as a self-leadership coach, I support my clients in cultivating questions into their self-talk. Not self-doubting kinds of questions but learning and exploring kinds of questions. The kind that creates open and flexible thinking. Marilee Adams, in one of my favorite books, called Change Your Questions, Change Your Life its one I often send to clients, Marilee writes about one of her characters’ mentors, Joseph S. Edwards, she says, “(Joseph) introduced me to Question Thinking, or QT, as he called the skills he taught me. QT opened up a part of my mind that otherwise, I might never have discovered. Like everyone ese, I believed the way to fix a problem was to look for the right answers. Instead, Joseph showed me that the best way to solve a problem is to first come up with better questions. Let that sink in and apply it to processing constraint. We need to first focus on asking a better question that takes into account our constraint.



First, I’d like to speak to that first experience of a new constraint. Depending on the constraint, some of us breeze right onto the questioning phase but some of us may get a little stuck. I think I shared this in season one but here are a few ideas to help deal with that first wave of a new constraint. Change your focus, change your face, change your physiology, change your space.

When you’re still in the first shockwave of constraint, be aware of your input, seek inspiration for your focus – other people who have leveraged constraint, A beautiful constraint is full of examples, change your face, smile, laugh, it releases good chemicals in your body, change how you’re sitting or standing or moving, change your location or just rearrange elements in your space.  These can be small things that give you momentum and energy to start of your question thinking.

So once you’re through the initial shock of a new constraint, how do you start asking questions that can move you through the process. I’m giving you my translation of the four areas that Barden and Morgan recommend.


Question your assumptions: What assumptions cause me to take my current approach, which of them are no longer valid with the new constraint?

Question your routines and systems: What routines or systems do I currently have in place, that may no longer be needed or could be adjusted with the new constraint?

Question your resources: What do I already have that could be used differently? What resources could I create access to, that could help me function with the new constraint?

Question what does success looks like: What will let me know if I am successful?



Think about your normal approach to getting your desired results. Let’s take my friend who owns a Café in the town where I live. Normally, her café is busy from open to close. They have a lovely and large dining area and a small patio and usually have lines out the door for breakfast. They normally have people dine in and some who stop by for take out. The questions here are what are the assumptions that support my current approach? For my friend, it could have been I assume that people will come to eat in my café if I have great food, great space and great service.

Next, what about my assumptions may no longer be valid based on new constraints? How do they need to change? For my friend, her new assumptions needed to be something like people need supplies like eggs, milk and veggies. People want coffee and tea. People will drive up curbside to get what they want. People want goods delivered to them.


Then look at normal routines and systems:

What routines do I currently have in place that are no longer needed or could be adjusted to work within the new constraint? For my friend she employed people to bake, mix drinks, clear tables, wash up and serve clients. She still needed people baking, but the cleaning and serving customers was adjusted because of no indoor dining. Those employees could shift to delivering food to locals and local businesses. Some of her employees instead of taking in person orders could help develop and implement online ordering.


What do I already have that could be used differently? What resources could I create access to, that could help me function with the new constraint?

My friend had suppliers bringing produce but no diners to eat it. She decided to sell grocery packs. Instead of selling baked goods in her store she created online menus with curbside pickup and delivery options. She had her staff develop kits for coffee and cocktails. She developed cookie kits for families to decorate cookies at home.


What will let me know if I am successful? My friend decided that she would consider her café a success if she could keep her employees and make the payments on her space.



The solutions may not present themselves with these questions but remember, we’re not looking for solutions yet. We’re trying to create open-minded and flexible thinking. And we’re just warming up our question thinking because next week we’re going to bring out the heavy artillery of questions. So my challenge for you this week is to practice open minded and flexible thinking.



I want to turn back for just a few minutes to fully inspire you and equip you to work on question thinking. Remember I mentioned Marilee Adams work. Merilee writes that with our question we make the world. Questions open our minds, our eyes and our hearts. With our questions we learn, connect and create. And in case the four questions are too much to take on right now, try this when you face a challenge this week ask yourself, what assumptions am I making? How else can I think about this? These are questions Merilee recommends and I think they are a great place to practice opening our minds and creating flexibility. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.





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