PRODUCTHEAD: Creativity is borne of constraints

PRODUCTHEAD: Creativity is borne of constraints

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

“a product at a wedding”


Constraints that motivate and focus are most effective

Boredom can trigger a creative and productive state of mind

It’s important not to stave off boredom immediately with distractions

You can optimise your working environment for greater productivity on different types of task


The first startup I worked for was called Zeus Technology, founded by two University of Cambridge graduates called Damian Reeves and Adam Twiss. While studying Computer Science as undergrads, they created a new type of web server — the underlying software that lets you view pages on the web.

Of the many astonishing things the University of Cambridge has done, one I experienced first-hand was the campus-wide local area network it had created by the late 1990s. For the time, it was cutting-edge both in terms of the technology used and the speed it delivered to every single dorm room — about 350 times faster than the dial-up modems of the time.

This meant that, when creating their web server software, Reeves and Twiss were constrained not by available bandwidth, like almost everyone else, but by processor speed. As a result, they came up with an innovative design that eked the most efficient performance possible from the computer hardware in order to make use of all that network bandwidth.

Their result was Zeus Web Server — software whose performance scaled linearly with the number and speed of processors — a phenomenal breakthrough at the time. For a while, eBay even used it to power its search engine.

Zeus Technology and its world-beating web server are long-gone now, but it goes to show how constraints can lead to creative innovations. So this week, I’ve pulled together some good reads on how constraints can trigger creativity.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation

The brief: develop an Electrocardiograph (ECG) device that costs no more than $1 per scan, is ultra portable to reach rural communities (i.e, should be lightweight and fit into a backpack), and is battery operated, in 18 months and with a budget of only $500,000 – a tenth of the previous model.

It’s all about motivation and focus


How Boredom Can Spark Creativity

Speaking recently about her time in lockdown, the Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright told of her delight at “tooling around all day” and suggested that having little to do can be a very good thing. “Boredom is a productive state so long as you don’t let it go sour on you.”

Embrace the ennui


Product Management Coaching

Whether you’re new to product management or have been a product manager for years, a coaching session can help you to step up your career.

We’ve coached people wanting to get into product management, product people with nobody in their organisation to manage them, and experienced product managers preparing to apply for a promotion.

A proportion of the fees from every coaching session is donated to charity. Contact us if you’re interested in finding out more.

In Praise of Doing Nothing

Think back to when you were a child. Filling up the empty days when you weren’t at school was easy, whether drawing on walls, acting out plays or den-making was your thing. Since those simpler times, scientists have proven the link between boredom and creativity. When we’re not interested in what we’re doing, we create new ways to occupy our minds.

Get comfortable with boredom


The Perfect Environment For Creativity

It turns out, environmental factors like noise levels, temperature and lighting can make a big difference to how creative we are. Here’s what the research says about setting up your environment for optimal levels of creativity.

Match the conditions to the task


recent posts

The dirty little secrets of decision making

As individuals, we’re continually evaluating options and taking decisions. As product managers, we have the additional responsibility to balance the often competing needs of users, the business and wider ethical considerations. What makes one decision better than another?

How to make better decisions


Manage the whole product

A product is often a complex combination of several products and services. Some you create yourself, some are created by others. You’re responsible for the whole lot, even if they’re not all directly in your control.

What do Google, Tesla and Apple have in common with the Michelin Guide?


The only article you’ll ever need on prioritization

When faced with an overwhelming number of things you could be doing, all with good reasons for doing them, it can be tremendously hard to decide which to do, let alone which to do first.

Prioritization is all about deciding this as objectively and transparently as you can.

Break the deadlock


upcoming talks and events

5th May 2021, 16:00 GMT


Online product management round table discussion (topic TBC)


can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from oranges and lemons.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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