The Power of Constraints: Why Deadlines and Limits Fuel Entrepreneurial Success
When I started to write this blog, I was writing two articles per week. I had an editor who would call me on the agreed deadline day and say, “Where is my article?”
Those deadline dates always loomed large for me. They were real, and I had to come through. But often, I had no idea what to write about. He would call and ask for the article, and I would say, “I got nothing.”
He would answer, “Then write about that. I don’t care. You owe me an article. You have three hours to get it to me, or we will not publish this week.”
With the hard deadline looming in three hours, I would go to the blank page on my computer and start writing. Something, an idea, a story, would magically appear. Within a short time, I was writing. I was creating. I never missed a deadline. Looking back, it feels like I experienced many little miracles.
And then I lost the discipline when I went on a vacation over a year ago. It was a time when I was feeling overwhelmed. I told my editor, “I’m going to take a break from writing these two articles per week. If I get inspired while away, I’ll write and send the article to you. If I am not inspired, you’ll get nothing. You’ll have to figure out something to publish or go dark. I don’t care.”
As you might have already guessed, I wrote nothing during that time. I thought about writing every day but never sat down to do it. And the excuse to myself was I wasn’t inspired.
When I returned, my editor gave up on me. He happily took whatever article I sent him, edited it, and published it. He would figure out something to publish if he didn’t receive an article. He never missed a publishing deadline. I was amazed at his commitment to the blog and his creativity.
After that vacation, I never recommitted to writing two articles per week. I would write when inspired and set aside the time to write. But over time, I realized I was thinking about writing far more than I was writing.
One day, at a funeral, I had two people I respect tell me how much they enjoyed my writing. They said the same thing: "You must keep writing.” They said this, not knowing I was considering never writing again. This encounter happened on January 31.
That night, I committed to writing every day for February. When I woke up on February 1, I got a cup of coffee and sat at my computer to write. I wrote for twenty-eight days straight. And it felt great. Then, in March, with my commitment fulfilled, I returned to my old ways of writing when inspired. The time constraint was gone, and so was my creativity.
The Urgency of Constraints in Entrepreneurship
I’ve been mentoring an entrepreneur for three years. In that time, he has not produced a product or generated one dollar in revenue. In our last meeting, I told him, “You have thirty days to generate income.”
He said, “I don’t have a product. How can I generate an income?”
“You are the product. Whatever you intended your product to automate, deliver it as a service,” I answered.
Then he asked the question that begged to be asked. “What if I don’t find a customer willing to pay me for this service?”
I said, “Stop thinking about your idea. Stop spending good family money after bad. Shutter the business. Find a job. Earn an income.”
This entrepreneur had no constraints. There was no end to the meager monthly budget he was spending. He went through the money he budgeted to start the business and his wife’s allocated income.
In my mind, he needed a hard constraint. It was time: three years, no product, no customers, and no income.
There are a lot of people who call themselves entrepreneurs these days. I call them dreamers. They don’t have the constraint to generate income within a timeframe. I sometimes refer to this as “extracting money from customers.” They work on their idea. They talk about it. They constantly redraft their business plan. They have a new PowerPoint presentation every week. But they don’t try to extract money from customers.
The successful entrepreneurs I’ve known go from idea to extracting money from customers very quickly. They are not out to prove the idea so they can raise money. They want people to pay them money for the idea. If they successfully make money from the idea, they know raising money will be far less challenging.
There is no creativity without constraints.
Question: What self-imposed constraints have helped you or your business succeed?
If you enjoyed this post, buy me a cup of coffee to encourage me and keep the writing flowing! ☕