Skip to content

Setting constraints; counting the cost

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Jesus of Nazareth – The Gospel of Luke

There are always constraints. Many are (or at first seem to be) external to your project (this many hours in a day; these laws; this much money in your bank account; these people already in your organisation), and some you choose.

They say that working within constraints – a certain sized picture frame, a particular medium for sculpting – is what forces the artist to do their best art. The artist says, “Within these limits I will do something new.” “For the love of this genre I will work with these conventions to build on what has come before.”

You do well to think deeply about your limits.

“I will do this work…

  • … in my evenings and weekends / on two days a week / within working hours / with my every waking hour.”
  • … for love (which means I will pay for webhosting) / with the $10k I have chosen to give to it, and then only with the resources that others contribute / and I will remortgage my house to see it through / and I will bankroll it with my crypto-fortune.”
  • … and this will be the main focus of my life for five years / and I will not sacrifice my family’s well-being for it / and I will not give up my hobbies.”
  • … and these are the lines I will not cross.”
  • … but I will not get my hands too dirty / and I will sweat for it / as long as people pay attention because of it / and I am prepared to look stupid if I fail.”
  • … as a specialist, making a contribution with a defined set of technical skills / and I will learn what it takes to see it through.”
  • … on my own / with a team of enthusiastic amateurs / and I will recruit professionals.”
  • … as long as it’s fun / as long as I’m interested / as long as I’m comfortable / as long as we are a happy family / and I am prepared to take some hits and have some uncomfortable conversations to keep things moving / and I will fire people who are not contributing.”
  • … but I cannot do it alone / and I know I can draw support from these sources / and I know I can leave it if I have to because what I am working for is bigger than I am.”

Set your constraints. Make your art.*

Bonus: “I will put Chaos into fourteen lines” – Edna St. Vincent Millay on constraints. HT: Owen Brown

*and don’t expect to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on a postcard.**

**(You might need a bigger canvas… or you might decide to be happy with a postcard.)

1 thought on “Setting constraints; counting the cost”

  1. So, so important and so rarely considered. Of course we make these judgements but so often as we go with little advance thought. This matrix is helpful and I will be applying this to my next 12 week plan. Thanks!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...