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Reduce the options to force your innovation team to work under duress

Reduce the options to force your innovation team to work under duress

By Rikus Grobler,, .

I am currently focusing one some techniques on how to improve innovation capabilities, more specifically, how to get your people to come up with great ideas and take action on them.

I have always reasoned that innovation is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. Hence, the rationale for focusing on these matters is that organisations can not just leave innovation up to chance and like any organisational discipline, you have to improve innovation skills and practices constantly and consistently to stay competitive.

Just as organisations always have to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, motivate people, increase sales, increase marketing impact, grow the customer base, etc., innovation capability also have to improve all the time, in fact, if you improve innovation capability, progressing all these other things I mentioned becomes so much easier!

In the previous delivery I discussed goal-setting and its influence on innovation. Another counter-intuitive technique that you can use to grow your innovation capability, is to stimulate innovation by imposing constraints.

Imposing constraints can boost creativity

Many creative thinking techniques propagate having “an open mind”. It comes in many forms and terms like all ideas are welcomed, no matter how absurd; thinking out of the box; divergent thinking; blue sky thinking, etc. There are merits in these techniques and I encourage the use of these methods, so why then come with the absurd recommendation of imposing constraints on innovation?

In essence, it is all about changing your perspective. According to psychologists, when you have less to work with, you actually begin to see the world differently.

With constraints, you dedicate your mental energy to acting more resourcefully. When challenged, you figure out new ways to be better. Obstacles can broaden your perception, open up your thinking processes and can help you improve at connecting unrelated ideas and concepts.

There are a number of studies that back these arguments, but for those who are really interested in finding out more about this phenomenon, I recommend reading “Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough” by Dr. Patricia Stokes. (You can watch a video on her techniques here: )

How can this be applied in practical terms? The most obvious constraints come in the form of time and budget. If you limit the delivery time or budget of a project, you basically force people to do and try things out of the norm.

Here are two well-known examples of project teams that created the “impossible” under enormous time constraints:

1.) Steve Jobs gave Apple’s iPod team “8 months from start to market.” If the team could not deliver on this requirement, not only would the iPod miss the Christmas ordering deadlines, but Apple would likely be dead as an organisation as a result. It remains nothing short of amazing that they were able to go from no-concept to market in such a short period of time; but, of course, there was no alternative!

2.) In 1948, six Boeing engineers worked for weekend in a hotel room to produce a 33 page proposal, which included moving from turbo-prop to jet engines, and accompanied this proposal with a balsa-model prototype, in order to salvage a team project that was at the risk of failure. Granted, the matter of winning a World War is probably the best motivator of all!

In both instances, short time targets undoubtedly served to impress a sense of urgency on all involved, and resulted in the “fat” being cut out of the innovation processes.

However, if you really think about it, there are more constraints than just time and budget, as limitations are naturally imposed. For example, in business, it’s your resources, regulations, competitors, and market forces which must be dealt with. In, say aircraft design, it can be things like the laws of aerodynamics, available materials, budget, fuel, and weight.

Different obstacles and limitations affect the outcome of projects depending on the domain in question, the creator, the goal, subject, and tasks. Thus instead of just creating constraints through budget and time limitations, why not add constraints of a different nature as well?

For example: reduce the number of people working on a project, reduce the space required for building a product, only limit yourself to a specific type of technology or raw material, reduce a customer process from 10 steps to 3 steps, in software development – reduce the code by half to perform a specific action in a programme.

Please let me know if you have used any other type of constraint in your organisation to drive innovation performance and got amazing results because of it.

Next Time

I have now dealt with goal-setting and imposing constraints as methods of improving innovation capability. Next I want to focus on finding good problems to solve – the starting point of innovation in my opinion.

I conclude with a quote from Jonah Lehrer: “The imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”


About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and management consultant who specialises in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law, and has an MBA and a PhD in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and he has also completed studies in design thinking and patenting. He has engaged leading Namibian organisations such as The Capricorn Group, Agra, Old Mutual Namibia, The Bank of Namibia, City of Windhoek, The Government of Namibia, Afrox Namibia, and Hollard Namibia. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education and financial services, Dr Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past 10 years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation and invention, and his mission is to provide performance-enhancing innovation management services that enable organisations and individuals to fully exploit their creative potential to reach their goals.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia


20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.