How to Succeed With Limited Resources

You don’t have enough time, enough resources, or budget– or maybe you lack all three. You may be surprised to know that’s exactly what stacks the odds of success in your favor.

According to research psychologist Adam Grant, increasing resources increases your likelihood of a project’s  success… but only for a while. There’s a critical point when too much money, time, or support actually hurts your mission. When we have fewer resources, we have to embrace the restraints and make careful decisions. When we’ve got everything we think we need, it’s easy to spend time and money on wasted efforts.

In her new book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney Johnson shares an important observation of the 500 fastest growing companies (as ranked by Entrepeneur magazine.)

“I was intrigued by the various ways these companies had funded their growth, rather than taking on outside cash. Only 28% had access to bank loans/lines of credit, 18% were funded by private investors, and 3.5% received funding from VCs: as many as 72% of these successful businesses were pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I believe these companies were successful not in spite of, but because of their constraints.”

I’ve seen this first hand, when I look back at the most creative times in my career and in how I’m approaching my business now, the best solutions came when we felt the most stretched.

I also watched the evolution at Verizon Wireless in this regard. When the going was easy, and so many customers were getting their first cell phone, it was no big deal to try something, and if it failed, no big deal. When constraints became tighter and competition stiffer, it became critical to make smarter choices at every stage of the game. It was critical to get feedback on what worked (and didn’t) more quickly. Whitney explains:

“Including constraints allows you to make a faster, more accurate prediction of the consequences of your actions, letting you determine which course of action will likely give you the best results.”

Embracing Constraints When You’re Not in Charge

So when I interviewed Whitney, I explained that most folks in our LGL tribe are quite influential–but for the most part, are not running the show. I asked her for her thoughts on embracing constraints, when you’re not in charge. She offered this advice.

  1. Do your best to stakeholder initial buy-in for your idea.
  2. Identify the minimum viable product–a prototype to test. This is the best way to prove-in your idea with minimum investment (P.S. any one who’s ever worked with me knows that I’m a HUGE advocate of pilot programs. Low risk, high value in convincing others to your point of view. It’s hard to argue with success.)
  3. Figure out how to speak the language of the folks you’re trying to convince. The finance crowd speaks and entirely different language than sales or IT.
  4. Then ask this question: If this prototype works, what does that mean for what’s next?
  5. Get the right people involved. Whitney astutely pointed out, “The people who have the hardest time with this are middle managers. They have the most to lose from a big mistake.” I agree. Having been in several middle manager roles, I also know that when you’re in the middle, feeling constraints from all angles, you’re also  in the best position to know what will make the biggest impact.
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Posted in Results & Execution and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

10 Comments

  1. Totally with you on speaking the language of the people you’re trying to convince. I’ve coached people who have shared long PowerPoint decks with me and asked for feedback before presenting it at work. My advice was almost always to cut most of the slides and figure out why it matters to their audience (not why they think their idea is awesome).

    Will share!

  2. Wow, this was written for us in the non profit world. In fact, limited resources drive our entire agency model. Because of the difficulty of funding free legal services for immigrants, our founders started an agency which was designed to utilize pro bono volunteers. Last year with a staff of 11, our volunteers performed over 4.5 mission dollars in free legal services.

    I like the new picture of you by the way, namaste!

    bill

  3. I like forcing constraints to bring out more creativity. Like only giving myself 1 hour to write a blog, or making a camera stabilizer for less than $20 (which I’ve done twice now), or getting a video shot and produced in less than 1 week (which I’m pushing myself through now).

    Too often though I’ve seen upper management set crazy big goals with ambiguous measures (or none) for success and then the restraint they give is “get it done in 2 months” when it really needs 4-6 months. If management is willing to hear that the goals need to be scaled bad if they don’t want to put out poor quality, then it can turn out OK. But that has not been my experience.

    • Bill, You raise and important point. The power of constraints is that it invites creativity, so part of what makes this work is that the people setting the audacious goals also be open to alternative approaches. The new movie The Martian is a great example of this at work.

  4. Constraints may be a necessary evil but that doesn’t mean lowering our quality. I have presented training to many organizations through a grant program. When times are tough, organizations need to be creative and ask about other options.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Terri, Thanks so much. So agree. It’s about being creative and open-minded.

  5. Loved this comment: “the best solutions came when we felt the most stretched.”

    Like you, I am a firm believer that moving into our discomfort zone is the only way we can unleash our creative side. We start by experimenting, failing, falling down, and in the process becoming more confident in our ability to accomplish more than we ever believed possible.

    Sometimes we need to be forced into becoming the person we were meant to be…instead, we are lured by what is easy and flashy.

    Great post!

    • LaRae, I love all your writing on mental toughness and overcoming adversity.

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