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The Paradox of Limitations: How Not Having It All, Is All You Need

Not Having Unlimited Money And Resources Leads To Breakthroughs

Hi there, welcome to PunchTime 👊 

In a world where technology evolves at breakneck speed, and AI is taking over the world, the power of strategic thinking has never been more crucial. Whether you’re a novice looking to learn or an expert looking to refresh concepts, my goal is to make strategy actionable for everyone through powerful decision-making tools, habits, mental models, systems, and frameworks and help you position yourself for success in your professional and personal life. Rock on!

Before we dive in, here’s some fun and interesting finds…

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Turning Limitations Into Innovations

In the past we’ve already touched upon how strategy requires understanding our status quo and how to create a system to break down challenges so we can achieve outcomes.

Today, let’s look at something that often hinders us from taking the first step: Limitations.

It’s a classic, we all hate limitations, we think that if we just had this job, this resource, this talent, or this amount of money we’d be so much happier and more successful. However, research shows that it is exactly because of limitations and constraints that we reach breakthrough ideas and progress. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples.

Breakthroughs Born Out Of Limitations

Apple iPhone

Hardware keyboards were inflexible, limiting applications, and took 40% of device real estate. What seems obvious now, was a limitation that was not challenged

Efficient algorithms

Limiting and slow computing power forced engineers to design more efficient algorithms, one example being binary search vs linear search


Computers used to fill up rooms and cost a lot. Sharing computing resources was a limitation. Connecting computers through a network eventually led to the internet


Overcoming the limitations of physical laws to finding a way to fly

Letter of credit

Carrying around gold and silver for transactions put a limitation on trade, creating room for the Medici’s to invent the letter of credit

Without Limitations We Feel Lost

As an ex-ski racer, I always think about the days on the slopes when fog takes away all visibility, when everything is simply white, everywhere we look. All boundaries and limits disappear, everything is possible (also a tree appearing within milliseconds). We start to feel lost, sometimes dizzy, and we get paralyzed. As soon as we see the boundaries, they guide us and we can act again to overcome our obstacles. Though this is just a metaphor for boundaries, it brings to life the importance of limitations, they guide us and allow us to focus.

We don’t always realize it, but limitless environments can hinder us from achieving the outcomes we truly desire:

  • Too many choices lead us to being overwhelmed and unable to choose (Paradox of Choice - 10 min book summary)

  • Unlimited digital resources (mobile phones), lead us to constantly being distracted and not living in the moment

  • Unlimited PTO often leads to less vacation days taken because no guidance and limits confuse people on how much vacation is acceptable

  • No deadlines lead to procrastination. On the other hand, we’ve all felt the power of how productive we can become hours before a deadline

  • Flood a startup (or anyone) with too much money too quickly and it will most likely be spent on unnecessary things that can lead to high expenses, distractions, and the potential downfall

It’s important to embrace limitations and understand that most limitations are temporary. They exist until someone is able to overcome them, which creates new boundaries. It’s a continuous cycle of how we grow as individuals and collectively as a society.

Ignite Your Purpose And Creativity

Let’s look at some types of constraints, as I believe our purpose is to overcome (or work around) our limitations with our innate creativity.

Input constraints
Forces us to optimize our resources, create more out of less

Input constraints are simply a challenge to overcome. Ernest Hemingway supposedly took on the challenge of creating a story with only 6 words. Take a second to think about the entirety of the following story:

“For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Don’t think too hard, let your imagination unfold the story.

Powerful, right?!

Capability constraints
Forces us to acknowledge our own boundaries and to expand them

Once we realize our limitations, we can grow by enhancing our capabilities or asking others for help. The earlier we identify our circle of competence, the easier it is for us to overcome these limitations to achieve what we want.

Outcome constraints
Forces us to break things down to the essence and think outside the box

Going back to the iPhone, Apple aimed to pack unprecedented functionality into a phone while making it simple to use for everyone, including your grandma. So the output constraint was almost conflicting: More functionality but intuitive? The beauty of limitations is that they define the problem and set the focus, making it easier to achieve even seemingly impossible outcomes.

To think outside the box, you need a box in the first place. So embrace the box!

Time constraints
Forces us to focus on how to use our time efficiently and effectively

Covid was a classic example of a time constraint. With a pandemic spreading across the world and threatening our way of life, new antibody tests and vaccines were developed in record time.

Put It Into Practice

This HBR article has a nice take on how organizations should focus on setting two types of constraints to support innovation, (i) outcome constraints and (ii) time constraints.

That’s a great approach for intentionally creating limitations that increase productivity and innovation. However, oftentimes life confronts us with constraints that we cannot control. That’s when the going gets tough and the tough get going, because once we embrace limitations the possibilities to combine, create, and innovate are endless.

Consider this example, VC is just the result of complementing the constraints of two different types of people: (i) those with time & capability constraints but enough inputs (money) and (ii) those with input constraints but enough time & capabilities.

Once we understand our limitations down to the core, we can find ways to overcome them. Never give up, because nothing is impossible.

Let’s embrace limitations and leverage them to create great outcomes!

That’s it for today. I’m always looking for feedback, thoughts, and ways to improve.

Also, please connect if you’re looking for someone to help brainstorm or want help with strategy, GTM, financial modeling, and innovation projects. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks & Rock on!


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