Examine the Constraints

"You play the hand you're dealt." - C.S. Lewis

In any problem, business or personal, there will be some constraints that are real and some that are perceived. Each must be examined and explored so that perceived but unreal constraints can be removed, permitting clear thinking on the real ones that remain.

Make sure the constraints you believe are in place really are. List all such constraints that you believe are in place and carefully analyze them to make sure they are real. Often, when you take yourself through this part of the problem-solving process and look carefully at each constraint, you will expose false constraints that can be removed. This may offer quick and easy solutions on which you can act.

During testing for rank in my karate studio, I devised a simple problem that was seldom solved in hundreds of attempts by customers of all ages. I held a long wooden pole called a “bow staff” in my hand during the early part of the test. It was six feet long and about three inches in circumference. At the end of the test, I handed the staff to the students giving these simple instructions, “Use this staff to keep your feet off the ground for ten seconds.”

I handed them the staff vertically and the students, young and old alike, would cheerfully plant the thin pole in the carpet and try to climb it and balance at the same time while they hung on like monkeys. Some made it up to a five count before they fell and their feet touched the ground again, but most never made it past two or three. I often repeated my instructions to keep their feet off the floor for ten seconds and gave them another chance to try their skill.

In all the years I used this test, only a handful of people took the staff, laid it lengthways across the floor and stood on it, thereby keeping their feet off the floor. They might have been just two inches off the floor, but it sure was a lot easier than climbing a thin pole and attempting to balance on it. The point is this: Many people make their problems far harder than they really are by not examining the constraints to see if they are really true. They focus so intently on what they perceive the problem and its constraints to be that they cannot solve it.

In ancient Asia, the Gordian Knot was said to hold the key to becoming the ruler of Asia. All who tried to untie the complicated knot failed until a young commander named Alexander, later to be called The Great, came upon the problem. After failing to find the starting point of the knot, he finally drew his sword and sliced the knot in half. Within a matter of months, all of Asia was his. He had simply removed the constraints all the others had felt they were under. With the constraints removed, the solution to the problem was ridiculously easy—and that’s the way it often is.

Are the constraints you perceive real or can they simply be removed?

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