Working With Constraints and Being Agile

Boxers have about 36m2 within which to outmanoeuvre their opponent. As a result, there’s nowhere to hide and no way to escape. Effectively, they’re restricted to a 6x6m canvas square. Just two fighters. Battling it out. Working with constraints.

Agility, as a result, is the ability to bob and weave like a prizefighter in the ring. 

In other words, being agile is being flexible. Manoeuvrable. Having quick reactions. 

But most importantly, just like that boxer in the ring, it’s about working with constraints. And making the most of what you have. Not bemoaning your lot.

Consequently, the constraints of the boxing ring are only perceived constraints. They are not limiting.

Instead, boxers learn to work within the constraints. And use them to their advantage.

Boxers are able to move quickly in a small space. They can find refuge if needed. And equally, they can use the ropes both for support and to pin back their opponent.

In short, this is what it means to be agile.

Transforming constraints into opportunities.

Working with Constraints: Seeing the Opportunity in Adversity

There are two ways to respond to difficult circumstances.

In the first instance, you might be inclined to give up. The constraints are too big, too difficult to negotiate and overcome.

Alternatively, you might choose to work with those constraints, seeing them not as obstacles to be navigated, but as a way to streamline your thinking and focus your response.

It is the second school of thought that defines agility.

Being agile is responding to a change in circumstances that turns potential adversity into opportunity.

Let’s consider an example.

Time Is Running Out

Recently I was asked to film a short dramatic piece and dance performance for Remembrance Day

With only a one-hour slot in the morning and another one-hour slot in the afternoon, time was a massive constraint.

There wasn’t much to work with so we had to be extremely efficient. And quick.

The morning shoot, therefore, focused on handheld camerawork. A-roll filming of the song performance and B-roll filming for the narrative cutaways. Directorial decisions were made on the spot in response to the conditions at our location (Ilfracombe waterfront). And we filmed as much as we could (a variety of ideas) in the short time we had. Better to have lots of ideas committed to film and figure out what to do with them in post-, than come up short in the edit.

The afternoon shoot was the dance performance in the quickly dying winter evening sunshine. Two static cameras and a bird’s eye view static drone shot ensured we had enough for useable masters from different angles.

But as the light disappeared getting the handheld close-ups required a lot of quick-thinking and one-take execution.

Ultimately, the time constraints and natural lighting constraints proved to be positively limiting. 

They forced us to work quickly and not dwell on decisions. We had to act, and act fast if we were to get what we needed. So, there was no time to waste with multiple takes. There was no time to mull over angles and movements. Quite simply, there was no time at all to do anything more than what was needed.

Thus, we ended up with exactly what we needed. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Time Is a Great Procrastinator

Hamlet takes five acts (and about 3 hours of performance) to do what he should’ve done in the first scene.

He finds out his uncle murdered his dad then married his mum. If he’d killed Claudius straight away, no one would’ve batted an eyelid. The rightful heir to the throne of Denmark would have claimed what was his, and life would go on.

Instead, he procrastinates. He puts things off. And in so doing, leaves a trail of havoc, destruction and death in his wake.

It could all have been avoided if he’d taken action.

And this is where being agile and working with (not against) constraints can make us more effective and efficient.

You could spend lots of time trying to plan and prepare for a project.

Or, you could just get on with doing it. Being flexible. Manoeuvrable. Having quick reactions. Responding to changes and navigating obstacles as they arise.

Time is a great procrastinator.

Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong because you haven’t planned things out in detail.

Be afraid of never getting started because you’re too busy planning.

Constraints help focus the mind.

Embrace them.

With agility.

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