What a great month May turned into! I had opportunities to launch new strategies, promote ideas to standing room only crowds, and continue a strong internal effort to create new value for my clients.

June has me scheduled across the country from Florida to California to Minnesota.

Dealing with the Constraint of Too Many Choices

“It’s a typical situation in these typical times, too many choices.” – Dave Matthews

I recently attended, as an observer, a weekly sales meeting for one of my clients. They call this meeting “The Opportunity Attack Meeting” (love that title). 25 sales people and the office manager discuss potential new clients and the leverage contained in their existing clients. A huge series of ideas and options get listed on flip charts. There’s great input and cross talk. Then the meeting ends and everyone leaves. HUH? WHAT? WHOA!

The sales manager came up to me afterward and said, “Great meeting!” I asked what his expectations were for the OUTCOME of the meeting… what did he expect his sales team would DO? He commented, “Well, go back and apply some of these ideas, of course.” Now the flip charts from their brainstorming were covered with ideas, some good and some not so good. The reality is that this sales team had so many things to choose from that most will do none. They needed some clarity and focus to leverage their creativity... and they left without it. They had “too many choices”. A large number of options actually presents a constraint for any choice to be put into action.

In 1984 Eliyahu Goldratt published an epic business book called The Goal. In it he introduced an application of systemic thinking called the Theory of Constraints. It is not complex and actually sounds exactly like what it is: our ability to accomplish goals becomes limited by a small number of constraints, one of which is choice, believe it or not.

Take a typical trip to your local supermarket. You are faced with so many choices that your ability to choose something is quite a challenge that costs time and energy, if not money. Hundreds of styles and brands of cookies, Colgate alone has over 30 varieties of toothpaste, and there are so many salad dressings they blur. Choosing is a chore.

Now take that to your business environment. New initiatives are launched every day. New points of measurement are required monthly. New sales opportunities fill the flip charts. IBM’s Global CEO Study, involving over 1,500 CEO’s, exposed this issue when it identified their greatest fear as “increasing complexity and the inability of their organization to deal with it.”

Goldratt would tell you to attack that constraint. In my example above, it is clearly the number of choices that block, or constrain, impactful outcome. Fortunately, there is a solution to this particular constraint. Yep, the Harvill gospel of elegant simplicity: THINK SIMPLE.

A tool for thinking more simply (and elegantly) is THE FILTER. Create a filter through which you pass your choices so you have structured help in deciding where to spend you energy. Keep the filters to no more than three testing elements, or criteria. Here is an example that I use when contemplating new work.


Profitable, capable, enjoyable…how simple is that?

When I (or you!) get a lot of project opportunities, we need a method to deal with the choices. Simple filters will give you a chance to select where you spend your bandwidth of time and energy. Filters provide a way to attack the constraint of many complex choices. Create your filters today.


The Privatization of Space: With NASA’s budget being quietly cut and the shuttle replacement program, Constellation, being cancelled, the space race is now falling to private enterprise. Companies like Virgin Galactic and Armadillo Aerospace (spurred on by the X Prize Foundation’s offering millions of dollars in incentive prizes) are taking space to the entrepreneurial level. Privatizing the exploration of space looks like it will make the innovative and development processes more affordable. We are a “species of exploration” and will always be looking to new frontiers.

Let Them Eat Bread: One of my favorite bakery/restaurants, Panera, is offering a new retail concept into its national chain: pay what you want. There is a regular Panera[finance.yahoo.com/news/New-Panera-location-says-pay-apf-1815728473.html?x=0&.v=5]-only store in St. Louis designed to function as a not-for-profit store. Customers are asked to pay whatever they want, the suggested retail price, or “more or less”, down to a penny. All profits from the store are donated to charitable organizations (and some funding support comes from a foundation). This is not a new idea, as these types of stores and eateries already exist elsewhere, but Panera can bring scale to the idea, if it works. Great way to give back to the community!

Animation Information: This is a big summer for animated movies with the final chapter of the Shrek story and Toy Story 3 hitting the theaters. A recent study gave some perspective to the history of animated films by rating the all time leading grossing features adjusting to inflationary impact. Only Shrek, produced by Dreamworks, is not related to Disney (now that Pixar is part of the Disney family):

  1. Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs
  2. 101 Dalmatians
  3. Fantasia
  4. The Lion King
  5. The Jungle Book
  6. Shrek 2
  7. Pinocchio
  8. Bambi
  9. Finding Nemo
  10. Lady and the Tramp


Interested in these ideas?


You can contact Steve at steve@creativeventures.com or give him a call at 972-490-7717.
See more at creativeventures.com and stephenharvill.com