Restrictions Can Drive Innovation


As a Lean process improvement guy as well as someone that really loves reading about innovation I’ve always taught my students that regulations, limitations, and restrictions on processes, equipment, and activities offer us an opportunity to innovate around those rules. The way that I describe it is that rules place you in a box, but within that box you can move up and down and diagonal and develop some really interesting ideas because of what you can’t do. However, you don’t focus on what you can’t do as much as focusing on how you can avoid that and what you CAN do.

I saw a picture to a great discussion about how gluten free diets are forcing, at least one chef, to be more innovative in their cooking. I’d post it, but the image is so large it’d take up the entire post, so I linked it above. Essentially the chef had a dish with polenta on it and a base that was all glutenous flour, but he figured out a way to make it all polenta, which actually created a unique dining experience that he felt offered a superior taste.

Another area where regulation has been the root of many innovation is the financial sector. They complain the most about regulations because it’s “bad for the economy” or something like that. However, CDO’s and everything that caused the last collapse was in response TO regulations. They figured out how to work around the regulations and make even more money than before. In fact, many banks started to follow suit because they weren’t able to post as high of profits and were getting hit by Wall Street for under performing comparatively.

This is one of the reasons why I personally don’t see value in fighting regulation other than to shape it in one direction or the other. The companies that are able to exploit the regulation the best are going to end up being first to market or extremely fast followers. Meaning they will make a great deal of money and likely dominate the market. If you look at regulation as a “disruptor” and an opportunity to disrupt the regulation, you’re going to do really well as a business.

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