Tightening the Belt, Managing in Times of Change, & The Better Path to Innovation

by JD Supra Perspectives

[In-house perspective on constraints-based innovation by Matt Fawcett, senior VP, general counsel, chief compliance counsel, and secretary for multinational data storage and management company NetApp:]

"We have to do more with less."

We’ve all heard it. It’s usually followed by talking about “tightening our belts.”

I’ve yet to hear someone say, “That’s it everyone, the time is right for us to loosen our belts again.”

Management culture generates many, many clichés but this is one of the oldest and most embedded. Across industries and eras, people have talked about this elusive goal of “doing more with less.” Whenever a company faces a challenging time and needs to cut costs it is the obvious thing for the CEO to say.

I look around our industry, the enterprise IT industry, and I see a massive shift underway. We are facing huge transformations as the cloud and new buyer preferences alter the landscape. Customers do not want to make massive capital investments in IT that they will need to depreciate over a long period of time. Many technology companies, including mine, are taking a hard look at how they invest in and operate their business, constraining investment and cutting costs.

Leave the belt behind

The old ways of working simply don’t work anymore. Companies have fewer resources to deploy while simultaneously dealing with a more complex, global economy. So what does that mean? Should we really “do more with less”? Is that the right message to set internally, is that the right mission?

Absolutely not.

And not only is it unhelpful, it is actually dangerous. I reject it because it immediately locks everyone into a defensive, hunkered-down, uninspired mindset. It implies that you will keep running things the same way, just pushing harder in the hope of somehow generating better results with fewer resources.

It implies that you will keep running things the same way, just pushing harder in the hope of somehow generating better results with fewer resources.

Don’t talk about tightening the belt: forget about the belt completely. Ask entirely new questions to generate entirely new ways of working, and entirely new results. Stop looking for the “least bad” alternative and start looking for an approach that actually improves outcomes.

Ingenuity and creativity often come from limits 

Call it “constraints-based innovation.” You see it in art, science, and yes, business and technology. In normal times, organizations tend to improve in steps or even half-steps, following a gradual innovation path. In times of lack, they can potentially take a big leap forward.

Embrace the power of constraints

There are many examples.

During the production of Jaws, Stephen Spielberg couldn’t get the mechanical shark meant to be at the center of the film to work. Strapped of resources to make another one, he was forced to reimagine the movie completely. The film became about the unseen enemy lurking under the water – a minimalist approach that proved far more effective and terrifying.

The renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has also seized on the power of constraints. His surprising, wildly innovative structures might seem to be the product of a revolutionary iconoclast. In reality, they are the result of his embracing constraints and limitations. Within that more restricted creative space, he finds a way to create something entirely new.

...constraint-based innovation is about significant change created by the fact that resource is not abundant.

Here’s the important point: constraint-based innovation is about significant change created by the fact that resource is not abundant. It starts with the recognition that radically new conditions require a radically new approach. “Belt-tightening” is about achieving some incremental degree of savings. It is about trying to wring out a little bit more for less.

If you focus on belt-tightening over constraint-based innovation you miss the real opportunity. The game shouldn’t be: how do we squeeze more out of our machine? The game should be: how do we build a new machine?  So before you tell your team to “do more with less,” realize that sounds like, “Let’s do the same work as always, only worse.” Don’t set yourself on a course for failure.


[As senior vice president, general counsel, chief compliance counsel, and secretary for NetApp, Matthew Fawcett is responsible for all legal affairs worldwide, including corporate governance and securities law compliance, intellectual property matters, contracts, and mergers and acquisitions. He has overseen the development of NetApp Legal into a global high-performance organization with a unique commitment to innovation and transformation.]

Written by:

JD Supra Perspectives

JD Supra Perspectives on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.