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Constraints sound limiting. But can we find opportunity in the everyday constraints of life ?

If we had unlimited money, unlimited resources and unlimited time we could achieve any dream we set our hearts to.

This is a classic argument that humans sometimes subscribe to. Our dreams require passion, but to mitigate the constraints that might limit this passion, money, resources and time are the classic trifecta, we often shift the conversation to.

In the early stages of my career, there was a common refrain. We would respond to a client brief with some great ideas and most of them would be shot down due to budget constraints or lack or time or some other reason. Dejected, we would return to work, and in most instances blame the client for daring to dream without having the resources to make it happen.

It was the easy way out and a defence I would often resort to in everyday situations as well. There would always be an external reason for which I could not do what I wanted to do, or perform as well as I could have, or finish something that I needed to.

It was more often than not, the fault of the constraint- with me being the victim.

There were roughly four such constraints to which it boiled down to as I look back in hindsight.


A square peg cannot fit into a round hole. We all know this.

For me I would often look at situations within their physical constraints to decide if I could solve for them.This was easy because, every physical constraint limits errors and passes as information itself.

Uninterested in spending time to rectify the “impossible” I would prioritise other things. After all, saying no was much easier and it also saved time.The only caveat- I stopped pushing my intellect to innovate in circumstances where a round peg needed to fit in a square hole. I started playing the victim, more than being a player.

In life – space or capability is not a luxury that one can always have in their favour. Metaphorically or physically. Over time and after years of playing the victim I realised that the concept of space as well as capability can be re-imagined very easily by changing the problem itself. In short by changing the focus area of what we need to solve for in a problem we can find solutions that can work within our ambit of space and capability.


These are a set of rules that help humans maintain a sense of coordination and understanding. The red light at the rear of a car can be physically interchanged with the yellow light in front of the same car, but it won’t make sense.

I understood cultural constraints best in the realm of human relationships and team management. When it came to relationships breaking down or individuals in a team not performing, it was always easier to say that the culture fit was missing. Much harder was to find a way in assimilating cultures to create success. Especially, when in the marketplace, labour or relationships were replaceable commodities.

My leadership and empathy skills were low.

Over time and infinite failures I realised the value of culture and cultural assimilation. Understanding people and an organisations culture was key, since it was the best indicator of how I needed to adapt. Once I could win their trust by adapting to them, they were open to exploring my culture as well. Assimilating new cultural nuances opened up a treasure trove of new ideas, new possibilities and new innovations. Innovations that helped problem solving. That drove growth. The more I started understanding this, the better I assimilated in different situations.

The more I started being a player and less of a victim.

Over the last 15 years I have lived in 6 countries with very different cultural nuances and languages and this learning always helped me work in diverse teams and lead them. The best leaders in the world drive nations of a multitude of race and cultural complexities. They do it by embracing the constraint. Not by saying that the culture fit of the country is wrong.


Logical constraints help us make decisions that are not associated with any other constraint. In short when our logic tells us that something won’t work we tend to side-eye it and go for other solutions or give up the problem itself.

I used to (and still) do it as well. The problem was my overwhelming belief in my own logic which was built on a foundation of cultural experiences and mathematical probability. I often failed to grasp that what was logical to me may not be logical to someone else.

The thing is, most problems don’t have linear mathematical solutions. Some do, however most problems are defined by perspectives. Logically man cannot fly and cars can’t drive themselves. Today, both are commonplace occurrences.

It needed a different perspective and mathematical data to solve for the logic of this new perspective. Putting the blame on logic without putting the requisite effort in, was where I played the victim.

More often than not I have seen, that there is no one way to solve a problem. Most problems can be solved in multiple ways, just like most destinations can be reached using multiple roads.

The more I trusted others to lead that journey, to forge that path, the more I started being a player. Things that were deemed unsolvable in my logic started to get solved. Un-learning and re-learning happened in a whole new way.


Semantic constraints rely on the meaning of a situation to determine the set of actions that are possible. However, meanings can change with a change in perspective and then, controls can change as well. Imagine a forklift and a car. For the same steering wheel motion one moves sideways and the other moves backward.

These are some of the most difficult ones to grasp and work upon. The way we look at things differ widely. So what is semantically a constraint for me may not be a semantic constraint for you at all. Some of the best atheletes, writers, artistes and innovators this world has ever seen, came from immense poverty, infinite failures and unthinkable hardship. Yet they succeeded where millions of others with far more resources, failed.

For them poverty and lack of access did not mean lack of possibility. They were players. Not victims.

Victims blamed the situation, blamed the people, blamed everything else and ended up nowhere. For a long time I was a victim as well. This affected everything about my personal development. By blaming someone or something else, I took the easy way out without pushing myself to try, learn, adapt, change or evolve.Work suffered. Relationships failed. Success was rare.

Only when I started to accept that I was playing the victim did I start making an effort to see the meaning of things from a different point of view. As soon as meanings changed, there were a new set of controls. New possibilities. I started being a player.

Some people find pride in saying they cannot change for anyone or anything. They are who they are. But the point is – even these people have changed from what they were born as. In short, everyone changes. Most of us only do it when we are left with no choices.

Those who do it proactively, unlock far more opportunities and networks, which leads to their inevitable success. Talent and background is over-rated. What swings the big votes are determination, devotion, practise and humility and an inherent will to change.



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Work @ Google. Ex Adobe, SAP, LinkedIn, IBM — Musings on growth, art, investing, life and a few other interests