The incredible power of limits

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Sep 09

Limits are the rules we live by. A stop sign is a limitation to our ability to drive quickly from one point to another. Yet, we know that without the limitation of having a stop sign at an intersection holding us back from faster travel, more accidents — to us! — would happen.

When it comes to our work and careers, though, limits are viewed with disgust and argumentation and ugly conversations around the water cooler. “If only we could get rid of (insert manager, policy, technology or business condition here), we’d be home free.”

I’d suggest there is an incredible cost you are paying right now for not putting limits on the type of corporate experience you have before you start looking for another job.

Without limits, we tolerate. And tolerate.

And tolerate some more. We put up with the situation while the entire time the stress of tolerating goes higher and higher. At some point, the stress becomes too high and we lose it and commit something we will immediately regret. We also tend to do poorer work both because of the stress and the fact that we are tolerating a bad situation all of which contributes to doing work less productively and with less quality.

Unless limits are reached, we don’t act

If you are looking at your work without some limit being reached, you may think about finding another job. But you won’t DO anything about finding another job. You’ll just keep on going and going and looking up five years from now and wonder why nothing has changed and you are still feeling just as bad.

A limit should be a trigger for action. When you get to the stop sign, you take the action of putting on your brakes and you stop. Without the stop sign there, you just keep on going wherever the road happens to lead you.

Without limits, we lose creativity

Did you ever notice that great artists put incredible limits on what they produce as art? Some artists only paint. And then only with water colors, not oil. And then only landscapes and nothing in them of people. And then only landscapes that include lakes, but not mountains. I know of an artist that creates nothing except from old money received from the Treasury that has been shredded into a million pieces. Constraints, constraints, constraints some more.

It is the limit that provides the vehicle for creativity; to produce the unique solution that will resolve the constraint in a way that makes sense to the person.

Define what you want out of your corporate experience

Do you want collaboration on the team or do you enjoy the back and forth of trying to solve a problem? Do you like an environment that has many (productive) meetings where decisions are made or do you like working on your own? Do you like a larger company with many employees or does a smaller company make it feel more like a team to you?

You define your ideal corporate experience. You define your limits. Once your limits are reached, it is the call to take some action to creatively solve the problem identified by the constraint and not simply tolerate that which is not ideal for you. It may not mean finding another job — but reaching a limit requires some action to resolve the issue.

Otherwise, I’ll see you in the same place, the same time — just five years from now.

Photo by sun dazed