Limitations on Creativity: What Are Yours?

Constraints and limitations enable creativity in sales. It sounds like a paradox at first, but think about it. Without constraints, options are unlimited. For example, if your customer needs a new CRM system and has no budget or time constraints, it would be easy to sell them a product. It’s more likely that customer has a tight budget, a three-month time frame, and must get approval from the CFO, who may or may not be a fan of your product. You probably need to get creative to close this deal.

The Apollo 13 space mission is a great example of constraints within functional creativity. This rocket was bound for a moon landing until, on April 13, 1970, a spark from an exposed wire in an oxygen tank caused a fire. In an instant, the mission of the three astronauts on board, and the many scientists in NASA’s Houston control center, changed from lunar landing to a nearly-impossible safe return home.

Commander Jim Lovell couldn’t just turn the rocket around and head full-speed back to Earth. The astronauts were now in the desperate situation of not having enough power, so they turned off all non-essential systems. The constraints they faced were life-threatening, and they inspired creative thinking at its most impressive. Prime crew member Ken Mattingly, who was grounded from the mission just 48 hours before lift-off after an exposure to German measles, worked tirelessly in the Apollo simulator. He recreated the astronauts’ situation and experimented within the constraints of severely limited power and water, which was needed to cool the capsule’s necessary systems. He configured and reconfigured ways the space craft could safely burn through the Earth’s atmosphere. Finally, thanks to the ingenuity at mission control, Mattingly, Lovell, and the rest of the crew were rewarded with that famous safe landing.

Constraints in sales are usually less life-threatening, but still important. They most often include:

  • Time. A deadline must be met.
  • Organization Limitations. The talent, manpower, or policies of the organization limit what can be achieved for the customer.
  • Supplier Capabilities. Providers have practical limitations including the amount of product they can provide to the organization and how quickly they can provide it.
  • Cost. Labor and material costs limit the company’s margins.
  • Quota. The organization must reach a performance objective.
  • Customer Requirements. Customers have high expectations and performance hurdles.
  • Competitive Environment. Competitors’ capabilities sometimes dictate what the customers want.
  • Price. The customer or market values the offer at a certain dollar amount.

What are your common constraints? How can they compel you to become more creative?


Mark Donnolo is the managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale, available in bookstores in January. To learn more, visit SalesGlobe.