I was at a live performance the other night where Jacq sang and played with Girish, and I had a great conversation with Reggie, the drummer for the night. (I am SO sorry that I don’t know your last name, Reggie.) We talked about the fact that his typical drum kit for events is usually like 30 or so pieces, but that he decided to go minimal for the event. He had a kick drum, a snare, a tom, two cymbals, and a cowbell.

What Reggie said was something like this, “I really enjoy this, because it means I really have to use what I have to get the expression I’m aiming for. I can’t just lean on all the gadgetry. I’m using my skills and coaxing that expression out of these few tools.” That’s my translation of what Reggie said. He actually said it better. This isn’t the real conversation. This is just a tribute. (If you just smirked a bit, thank you. If you have no idea what I just said, move along. It’s okay.)

Work Within Constraints

With many things we do in life, there’s this little continuum. We start with something smallish or nothing, we then adapt and develop newer or bigger or more (or some mix). You start with a point and shoot camera and then you need a digital SLR camera. And then you need this amazing $3000 lens. And then, somewhere, at some point, oddly, you decide to go 180 degrees in the other direction. You think, “I bet I could get amazing photos out of one of those crazy cardboard box kit cameras.”

Constraints are magic, if you learn to embrace them. Learning how to write within 500 words is powerful. Learning how to take just one great photo with a simple point and shoot camera is wonderful. Learning how to get music out of two sticks and a bucket is wonderful. You can do a lot by learning how to embrace a lesser set of tools. You can learn a lot by saying, “This is all I have to work with, and I’m going to do that.” Jason Fried wrote a great book about that, by the way. Rework.Read also A Lesser Photographer manifesto. (Thanks to Michael Schechter for sharing this with me.)

What Are Your Constraints?

Are you working within a very tight budget? Do you not have enough time? Are you a cruddy writer? Bad on video? What’s your set of constraints? For instance, in music, I’m constrained by my lack of knowledge and ability with my use of Logic Pro and Abelton Live. Knowing this, I sometimes come up with hackish ways of creating a sound I want, because I don’t know how all the cool kids do it.

Where are YOUR constraints? And let’s think about this: there are constraints you just have (like my lack of knowledge) and then there are constraints you can choose for yourself: I like to write sub-500 word posts.

And what will those DO for you?

That’s the conversation. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Kenny Rose

    I grew up with nothing. And realized I had everything. 

  • Rufus Dogg

    That’s what makes twitter so powerful; you must express yourself in only 140 characters. Many people who can’t blame the 140 character constraint, not recognizing that the limitation is them.  Same with graphic designers. The best designers work at newspapers, where they have to make stuff look good at 53lpi and a dot gain of 30%+, no chokes or traps, and a high probability of mis-registration.  The crappy designers whine; the great ones shine.

  • owengreaves

    Hey Chris,

      I too am a drummer, and I often tell other drummers and musicians, less is more. We always get into to trouble because we keep wanting to look good, be the center of attention, 15 minutes of fame. What ends up happening, it doesn’t sound good, people start to resent you, eventually….they stop coming around. It runs that deep. Music is even more sensitive because it’s becomes personal.

    I like abundance as much as the next person, but it complicates life, so I am careful with what I want. You know the saying, becareful for what you wish for : )

    I think your reference to Constraints is interesting, I would ask, what’s your plan….the plan is everything, the constrainst reveal themselves when you stray from the plan : )

    Many blessings my friend, hope you are doing well?

  • Raul Colon

    Does this mean I need to stich with my Point and Shoot camera no SLR? 

    Great points my friend. It will be 4 years in June that I started to work on my own. 

    Interesting enough that has taught me to work with what I have and make the best of it. 

    Before working for larger companies I would build a business case to get what I needed. 

    Now days I focus all my energy at serving clients, delivering, and preparing for new opportunities. 

  • John Anealio

    We kind of spoke about this on G+ the other day, but at one point as a singer/songwriter/guitarist  , I got super into gigging with tons of looping devices and effects.  Eventually, I scaled it all back to just one acoustic guitar, and arguably, I get more sound out of my naked guitar then I did with all of those effects.  By using alternate tunings, harmonics and finger-picking I can create a pretty full sound. 

    The benefit of scaling back to me is clarity.  I don’t worry about all of the gadgets, I can just focus on my singing, guitar playing and interacting with the audience.

  • Carrie Wilkerson

    this happened to me this week…at a conference for speakers where we were required to limit our FULL objective of the 75 minute talk to 5 minutes. (ACK) I had to ‘drop my guns at the door’ (like Reggie traveling light) and just boil down to the bare bones of the message.  It was a challenge, but it has made me a better communicator. Thanks, Chris.

  • Carrie Wilkerson

    this happened to me this week…at a conference for speakers where we were required to limit our FULL objective of the 75 minute talk to 5 minutes. (ACK) I had to ‘drop my guns at the door’ (like Reggie traveling light) and just boil down to the bare bones of the message.  It was a challenge, but it has made me a better communicator. Thanks, Chris.

  • Thais Zoe

    I’ve learned and forgotten this lesson more than once …thank you for the lovely reminder. I’m starting w limiting my blog word count…then, who knows:) Thx, again! Very helpful AND needed!

  • Tommy Walker

    I use a $100 flip cam and non industry standard editing software and a publishing schedule that has a new episode every week. 

    Plus client work, plus an additional writing gig, plus promotion. 

    The constraints on time have helped me to put together some excellent systems and processes for getting a ton of work done in a timely manner. 

    For example, while researching for the video to my series, I’ll put clips from other accounts I know I’ll want to use into their own private playlist, and annotate in my script the timecodes where I’ll make the cut.

    With a weekly news wrap up piece, I’ll find the news piece and summarize it  in a draft, and repeat the process throughout the week until I’m ready to schedule it Thursday night. 

    So instead of having to find 10 articles all at once, I’ll put them in and write a few lines as I find them throughout the week. Makes the final edit time on that piece minimal. 

  • Daniel Decker

    Brilliant. Where there is a will… there is a way. 

  • markgehrke

    I thought Reggie was fantastic tonight.  I appreciate the restraint of his drumming.  

    Less is often more and  I’m enjoying exploring doing more or the same with less “stuff”.  It’s all good!

  • Christopher Somers

    Is great to think outside the box to work with constraints and then at some point they are not constraints at all!  Until there is a new one… and you do the same thing all over again. 

  • Chuck Frey

    Constraints force you to get creative!

  • Joy Johnson

    I’ve noticed the same thing with money and the desires of my micro business clients to obtain loans.  The biggest constraint of all is money.  Loans, they think, will help.  More money is so very seldom the answer!  It delays the inevitable while while growing the size of the problem.  It simply allows people to do even more of what is already not working.  

    It’s adding the constraint that forces people to come up with real solutions.  There are so many times I hear of heroic actions in unique sets of circumstances.  The general response typically is, “Wow!  I could never do that.”  Sometimes, maybe, not.  However, one never knows what one is capable of until one puts oneself in that situation.  Forcing yourself into situations where there are severe constraints spurs enormous growth.  It’s back to that saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

  • Leo Dimilo

    I totally agree.  When I first started playing music as a guitar player, I wanted all the effects, the big rig.   In fact, on the first tour, I had to tote 3 amps, one for overdrive, one for acoustic and one for my effects.  The set up was elaborate.

    A couple years later and I had two pedals (as opposed to a pedal board) and two amps (one for acoustic and the other for electric.)

    I think we lean on gadgetry b/c somehow we think it makes us better.  What usually happens is that as we grow into our craft, we realize that the things we thought would complete us (the secret sauce), the gadgets, is actually weighing down our craft.

  • Ed Healy

    I am not a good video editor. This is 100% an experience constraint – I don’t have much of it, in total or with the tools that enable one to do ‘great things’ with video. That said, I wanted to do a lot of video while on Tour this past Summer – so I structured my ‘I am the Gamerati’ videos to be short and easy to edit. My constraint on the technical experience side helped me innovate on the format side.

  • Marketing Expertise

    As drummer with more than 21 years of experience, I can tell you: less in more.

    Both in terms of your equipment and what you play.

    The smaller your kit, the more thought required to be creative, and the more creativity required to lay down an interesting groove.

    More notes (played in a faster succession) doesn’t equate to better drumming – it’s just and more jam-pack drumming. And that turns a lot of people off – because it’s not musical.

    As with so much in music, marketing and life in general: less is more.

  • Jarod Billingslea

    Great post.

    I believe my constraights are not being able to write how I feel and want others to feel, and also not being limited with a tight budget for the business I want to kickstart. But there’s a lot more; I just think that these are the most important ones, however.

  • Ross Quintana

    Nice post Chris, Your Ableton comment made me laugh, I have it and am the same way. This is the glory of Instagram, the mechanics of it are that you can only take photos with your camera (contraint 1) and then you ahve to make it something interesting enough to get a like or comment. (constraint 2) plus you can use a small group of filters. (constraint 3) By being so limited it means when you get one that is really liked or shared, you appreciate that even more. It is like golf. It looks stupid until you play it and realize how sweet those guys on TV are when they hit by the pin and backspin it within inches. Cheers

  • laineyd7

    Chris, thanks for the “Tribute” chuckle. Being proficient without all the extra trappings means you can travel light, be portable, less beholden to stuff that might break down mid-gig (musical or other)…

  • Marc Binkley

    Hey Chris,

    Great post – I actually came here from watching your “overnight success” videos on YouTube.  Some great insights there.  As for this post, I love your reference to photography.  As a serious amateur, I got caught up in the “if only I could have that lens, I could take better shots” game.  As time wore on I realized that the guys who I really admired like Henri Cartier Bresson and Ansel Adams used junky equipment by todays standards. Yet, their images are timeless.  Their gift was not in the equipment they got to use, it was in the way they saw the world and their knack of timing to capture it.  Bresson and Adams would be able to make amazing pictures with any camera.  This idea reminds me of the quote by John Coltrane, “you could play a shoestring if you’re sincere”

    • Darlene Hildebrandt

       Hey Mark, I’m a photography teacher and one of the things I always tell my students is, perfect your craft first, then get more gear.  You are bang on when you say gear or a new lens isn’t going to make you better it’s knowledge and practice and experience.  So learn, be a sponge, and get out there and shoot!

  • Marjorie Clayman

    Yarg. When are people going to give agencies a break?

    You made the point crystal clear – nobody will read *boring* blogs. It doesn’t matter if you’re an agency, an astronaut, or the man in the moon. When it comes to agencies, people are (in my opinion) far too willing to look for proof that agencies suck. 

    Yes, if an agency is writing a really boring, self-promotional blog, people won’t read it. Similarly, if an agency writes a really boring e-newsletter or sends out tweets that are nothing but self-promotional, people will get bored.

    As is the case with everyone.

    I am an agency woman. People seem to like my blog. Big paint brushes are bad. 


  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    As a 24+ year professional photographer I’m actually considering  buying one of the new micro 34 thirds cameras that are sort of like SLR in miniature.  Lenses change but they’re so compact.  I travel a lot and to have all of my gear in one small bag that was say under 10 lbs, instead of having to pick and choose what I take and my bag weighing more like 25 lbs would be really great.  Currently doing some research and waiting for a new Olympus model to get here so I can try it out. 

    I agree Chris constraints are  good sometimes, makes one get more creative and resourceful. 

  • Dr. Susan Giurleo

    My constraint (one of a few) is working around being  a parent who has the crazy goal of being home when my son gets off the bus. I get so much work done in the 6 hours he’s in school (or less if I’m seeing clients, volunteering at said school, etc) it pales in comparison to the work I used to get done when I had wide open 8-10 hour work days.  We have to keep in mind that people did profitable business way before all of these technologies we rely on. They sent snail mail, shook a lot of hands, organized groups in neighborhoods. Sometimes too many choices limits our ability to be creative and awesome. Less is definitely more.

  • How to make money online

    Man’s power can only be measured when he is trapped in real problems. The real brave man is the one who can work in such difficult situations and challenging scenarios. Nothing can keep you in bad position for long if you have a desire and will to change things…

    Just a Food for thought 

  • Alex Moon

    Constraints force you to get creative! 

  • Shekhar

    Life without constraints is eating food without salt and peper. As Steve jobs said, ” You can join the dots looking back into your past”. Same way, in future we shall be able to know how important these contraints were in determining real value out of our lives.

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