Limitations: the Entrepreneur’s Friend

Limitations are the entrepreneur’s friend. This is often not the way it first seems. People say “if only” a lot.

If only I had a little investment capital… 

If only I was born into a family of means…

If only I didn’t have a mortgage and kids in college…

If only I had a technical cofounder…

If only… then my dreams would come to fruition.

Fortunately for the majority of us without unlimited means, or unfortunately for those who were born Luksic’s and Arnault’s, human creativity and ingenuity seem to flourish when limitations are present.

The human race built most nobly when limitations were greatest and, therefore, when most was required of imagination in order to build at all. – Frank Lloyd Wright

Daymond John, of Sharktank and FuBu lore, recently wrote a book called The Power of Broke. I listened to a podcast where he talked about his early success and almost all of it was connected to the fact that he had nothing, thus was forced to get very creative. John talks about the limitations of starting with no capital as:

…a mindset that everyone possesses and just needs to be tapped into. It’s the ability to harness unparalleled creativity and passion stemming from having nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Phil Hansen was injured during art school and forced to give up creating the pointillist drawings he loved because of a shaky hand. He drifted purposeless for a while and then was encouraged to embrace the tremors and use them to his advantage, his TED talk tells the story of how this ultimately led to his artistic success.

The idea of limitations and constraints is counterintuitive, but thankfully the counterintuitive approach (especially with creative endeavors like entrepreneurship) is the often the best path. Zappos pays employees to quit after 4 weeks of training, on first blush this seems insane, but when you dig deeper it’s obvious that this is one reason they have such low turnover in their ranks. Last year, in another bold move, Zappos offered every employee a generous buyout offer if they weren’t onboard with the company’s new controversial form of management: holocracy. A whopping 18% of the staff took it.

Putting your limitations into action

Try something with me. Write down the limitations you’re currently facing in your business, project or creative endeavor. Then instead of looking at those as negative facts, consider them from a different angle. Ask yourself:

How can my current limitations work in my favor?

The difference between people who are failures and those who are successful in their chosen path in life is very, very simple—and I consider myself blessed to realize it in the middle of my life versus at the end. Successful people understand their limitations, refuse to judge them as “bad” and instead use those limitations for their benefit.

I respect my limitations, but I don’t use them as an excuse. – Stephen R. Donaldson