🔤 Constraints help

This one brings back Jason Blum.

If you were on a trivia show and the host asked you to list profitable movie production studios, only real a media buff would know of Jason's hidden gem of a company. This studio spawned several lucrative franchises on budgets of five million dollars.

In 2015, the NPR podcast Planet Money caught this company before their explosion of success to talk to the founder, Jason who talked about why constraints (like less money) help:

"You're going to have to be clever, and that cleverness stretches you, it makes you think outside the box because the money panacea isn't in your arsenal anymore. You have to fix the problems another way."

One way Jason and his team worked around constraints was to create new rules about how to make movies. They settled on three; not too many speaking parts, not too many locations, and contracts for as little as possible but with box office bonuses.

It's this approach that led Blumhouse Productions to make movies like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, and Get Out. Small investments but big returns.

Blumhouse provides a good example too about the context-dependent nature of advice. Small budgets remove risk and every project, at a minimum, breaks even. Disney meanwhile takes bigger swings, with bigger possible rewards.

Part of the reason constraints help is because they force someone to be different. There's no way Jason Blum succeeds by trying to be like Disney. Competing with Disney on Disney's terms is idiotic. Blum's constraints force him to be different.

Money is sometimes the answer but sometimes it's not. Money offers an immediate solution but that may not be the best one. "Sometimes restrictions get the mind going," wrote filmmaker David Lynch, "sometimes you come up with very creative, inexpensive ideas."

Nations suffer from ‘resource curses' and individuals know that if you need something done to give it to the busiest person you know. Constraints help.

This is one way to see the expression that every strength is a weakness and every weakness is a strength. Companies with experience don't have newness. People with networks don't have quiet. Organizations that lead the industry aren't hungry. That last one led to one of the most famous marketing slogans ever: Avis's "We're number two so we try harder." Constraints may seem unhelpful, and they are, to immediate problems. Looked at with a different perspective though, and someone can see constraints as a way to focus attention.