Constraints Are Good for Innovation


Way back in 1960, Theo Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, he accepted a bet with his publisher Bennett Cerf. Cerf challenged Geisel to write a book using only 50 different words, and the result became Green Eggs and Ham, which went on to sell over 200 million copies and is now one of the best-known children’s books of all time.

In February 2003, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, they invented a style of presentation called pechakucha. It’s a style of presentation in which the presenter gets exactly 20 slides to deliver in 20 seconds each, for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s it, that’s all you get. Oh, by the way, and those slides? They auto advance exactly every 20 seconds. That’ll make you tighten things up.

In the first example, Theo Geisel attempted to write an entertaining book using only 50 words. Pechakucha exists to kill boring presentations, and these are just two examples of using constraints to create innovation. According to Stanford professor Bob Sutton, “When options are limited, people generate more, “not less, and more varied solutions.” Why? Because their attention is less scattered.